Commodity groups abound, but system works

Western Canada has an array of commissions, boards and councils representing all the crops we grow. Not surprisingly, there are always changes afoot in this complicated jigsaw puzzle.

Many producers wonder why we have so many organizations and what exactly they all accomplish.

The way legislation works in Canada, it’s very difficult to establish multi-province producer organizations if they’re funded by check-off levies. That’s why we have triplicate organizations in Western Canada for crops like canola, wheat, barley, pulse crops and oats.

Take a look at canola, where producers are represented by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, SaskCanola and Manitoba Canola Growers. Each has its own checkoff.

There’s also a Canadian Canola Growers Association, which includes representation from the three prairie canola organizations as well as British Columbia and Ontario. The CCGA is best known for administering the cash advance program, but it also does a great deal of policy related work.

To link canola growers with grain handlers, exporters, crushers and life science companies into an organization representing the entire value chain, there’s the Canola Council of Canada. One of the major funders, Richardson International, has just pulled out, leaving a reported funding gap of $1 million a year.

The risk now is that others could follow. The bean counters within the other big grain companies will hate to see a competitor with a cost advantage in the marketplace, even if it’s small in the overall analysis.

Meanwhile, the Flax Council of Canada has closed its headquarters. Acreage has been declining, particularly in Manitoba. Once the powerhouse of Canadian flax production, Manitoba harvested only 55,000 acres last year.

Alberta is now larger than Manitoba at 85,000 acres with the majority of the flax crop (890,000 acres) in Saskatchewan. Changing dynamics in the industry contributed to the demise of the council.

Meanwhile, Pulse Canada is a national organization supported by grower groups and industry, which in addition to promoting pulse crops, has also spearheaded railway performance monitoring.

To their credit, the prairie wheat and barley commissions collaborate on many research projects. However, SaskWheat has steadfastly refused to join Cereals Canada, apparently believing that farmers shouldn’t get too cozy with industry players. It’ll be interesting to see if the recent executive change at SaskWheat will lead to a different viewpoint.

Although it doesn’t get much media attention and operates on a relatively tiny budget, there’s also the Canada Grains Council, which works to address issues of overriding concern to the entire industry.

Discussions are underway in Manitoba to amalgamate five commodity groups representing corn, wheat and barley, flax, pulse and soybeans, and flax. Director representation and board governance are among the issues being debated.

In theory, we would appear to have too many crop commodity organizations, and if they can at least be amalgamated within provinces, it would seem to make sense. However, as someone involved with a couple of small commissions in Saskatchewan, there’s a worry that the needs of small acreage crops could be lost if they’re lumped with bigger cousins.

The organizational chart for the groups involved in crop research, promotion and marketing will continue to change and adjust, but major structural changes seem unlikely. The maze of crop groups can be confusing, but the system actually works rather well most of the time.

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