Canola council’s reduced agronomic role vexes farmers

Farmer reaction to changes at the Canola Council of Canada has been mixed.

Due to budget cuts the council is reducing its role in agronomy extension, market development and in administration of the Canola Performance Trials.

The new direction is the result of a priorities review prompted by the 2018 departure of one of the council’s biggest funders.

Richardson International pulled more than $1 million in funding for the canola, flax and soybean organizations in part because it felt they were duplicating the agronomy and market development work grain companies are doing.

Ed Rempel, past-president of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association, had harsh criticism for Richardson International president Curt Vossen.

“If Curt thinks that any of his agronomists are as good as council agronomists when it comes to canola, I would just say that he is mistaken and misguided,” he said.

Rempel was also displeased with council president Jim Everson’s actions.

“I like Jim Everson. I think Jim Everson is a really nice guy but he is wrong, wrong, wrong,” he said.

“He hasn’t been able to correctly understand who is essentially paying for council and he does not understand the value that the agronomists bring to the table.”

Terry Youzwa, past-chair of the council, said he is pleased that the board of the council managed to keep all aspects of the industry working together.

“We’re better off when you understand each other’s issues and participate at that table. Together we can go much further than we can alone,” he said.

Youzwa is pleased that the council will still have a role to play in agronomy and market development, albeit a reduced one.

“There is going to be some challenges when you downsize the budget and it needed to be done,” he said.

But he too was critical of Richardson.

“I am disappointed and frustrated with Richardson, who reaps benefits from the council’s work and doesn’t contribute to the council,” he said.

Among the changes being made at the council is a restructuring of its funding formula. It will no longer be based on a levy linked to production, processing and handling.

“As canola production increased or decreased, so did our budget,” Everson told delegates attending last week’s Canola Industry Meeting in Saskatoon.

“And there hasn’t been much decreasing going on in canola production.”

Budgets will be based on priorities and programs.

The council’s core budget in 2019 will be $5.2 million, down from $8.7 million in 2017. Producer groups will fund half of the core budget with industry paying the other half.

On the agronomy side, the council plans to continue to play a leadership role in identifying emerging threats, co-ordinating research projects, developing best management practices and assisting with regulatory issues.

But when it comes to disseminating knowledge gleaned from research, it will be relying more heavily on private sector agronomists.

Council agronomists will still be assigned geographic regions of responsibility but they will no longer be working with farmers on a one-on-one basis.

“We’re not going to walk the fields with one or two farmers,” said Everson.

“But if we can get 50 farmers together and some commercial agronomists and make a bigger impact with that kind of event, that’s what we’d like to do.”

That will free up the council agronomists to focus on areas of specialization such as clubroot, blackleg and stand establishment.

The council will be reducing its role in administering the Canola Performance Trials and in provincial disease and pest surveys. The Ultimate Canola Challenge and sentinel site programs will be eliminated.

Some of the biggest cost savings will come from the council getting out of canola promotion activities in established markets.

“That’s a major area where we’ve really cut back,” said Everson.

However, it will continue with promotion activities in conjunction with the Canadian Canola Growers Association in promising emerging markets such as South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Colombia.

And it will be conducting “brand health” activities such as maintaining a credible and up-to-date online presence, researching consumer trends and responding to flawed science in media coverage.

The council intends to bolster its work on preventing or resolving market access issues by reaching out to regulators in overseas markets, advising Canadian negotiators on trade and lobbying Canadian policymakers.

As well, the council will now be holding its annual convention in conjunction with the Canada Grains Council.

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