Crop groups ponder collaboration

More ain’t better, at least not when it comes to farmer-funded organizations.

That’s the attitude driving talks to bring some of Manitoba’s crop organizations together through a merger or intense collaboration.

“I started to change my thinking to ‘every acre’ a farmer grows, rather than ‘every crop’ a farmer grows,” Theresa Bergsma, general manager of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association, said in an interview at the recent Crop-Connect conference.

“It switches the thinking.”

The corn growers group and the National Sunflower Association have collaborated on administrative functions for years and recently have talked about merging.

However, when the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association formed recently, it gave a giant boost to the notion of cross-crop merger or resource sharing by saying it didn’t want to build a big wheat-and-barley-only bureaucracy with the farmer money it was receiving. Instead, it wanted to work with other crop groups.

The notion of combining crop organizations was high on the agenda for the organizations that hold their annual meetings at CropConnect.

It was also on the conference’s main stage, where consultant Kelly Dobson talked about the merger discussions.

“Your organizations are expected to lead or co-lead on variety development, market development, market access, value-adding and doing our part to maintain the public confidence in the food we produce,” Dobson said while explaining why many farm organization directors think individual crop organizations are too small to be fully effective.

“This process was started be-cause someone said, ‘we can do better.’ ”

Dobson said governments used to lead many areas that are vital to crop development but now expect farmer organizations to “co-lead” and jointly fund en-deavours. That’s hard for the “minor, emerging and special interest” crop organizations be-cause they have little money and few staff.

The corn growers group, the soybean association, the Wheat and Barley Growers Association and the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers Association are at the heart of the discussions, but other crop groups are also interested in sharing resources and working together as much as possible.

However, a mega-merger is not in the cards.

“There’s a lot of C-words being uttered — collaboration — and not a lot of M-bombs being dropped,” said Dobson.

Canola and oat growers at the conference seemed interested in co-operating with other organizations but seemed unlikely to join any drive to formally unite.

Manitoba Canola Growers is closely attached to other provincial canola grower organizations as well as the Canadian Canola Growers Association and the Canola Council of Canada.

Manitoba Oat Growers is an integral part of the Prairie Oat Growers Association, which is a value-chain organization similar to the canola council.

“Commodities that are well-established and inter-provincially connected are already well positioned,” Dobson said without specifically referring to canola or oats.

“They have millions of dollars and lots of specialized staff to leverage those millions on any issue. Commodities that are re-gional or have no cousin organizations or none of the checkoff are left to go on their own.”

Ontario corn, wheat and soybean growers united in 2010 to form Grain Farmers of Ontario with barley and oats joining later. President Henry Van Ankum said joining forces worked well in Ontario and thought merger discussions made sense in Manitoba.

“It’s efficiency. It’s a stronger voice. It puts depth in our offices. It give us greater reach,” Van Ankum said in an interview.

However, the organizations can’t drive the initiative.

“The key to have it work is to have the grassroots asking for it,” said Van Ankum.

Now that the talks are public, directors of some of the organizations can more openly discuss the idea with farmers.

Bergsma said the talks are truly open to a variety of possibilities.

“Even if there’s only a few of us that start, let’s see where it goes,” she said.

“There’s no big vision that all domestic commodity groups in Manitoba (will end up inside a single organization).”

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