Alta. barley, wheat commissions talk merger

Discussions over fully amalgamating the Alberta wheat and barley commissions are now underway after members voted last week to explore a potential merger.

Speaking at the wheat commission’s annual general meeting during FarmTech Jan. 30 in Edmonton, delegate Kevin Auch said the merger would allow money to be used more wisely while also serving both crops well.

“I can see a synergy there where we wouldn’t have to tax our farmers as much,” said Auch, who brought forward the merger motion to members.

“There are more synergies to be made from combining the two commissions into one. You would need fewer people to run it, and I don’t think any interest from barley or wheat would be lost because you would still have the employees doing the work.”

The motion only allows for talks of a merger to get underway, Auch said, adding that any official changes will likely require a plebiscite.

“This is only beginning that process to see how a merger can be done,” he said, noting it could take up to three years for it to be finalized.

“Nobody wants to rush into something and have a half-baked governance model.”

The move to potentially merge the wheat and barley boards comes after both commissions combined administrative staff last year.

While the board of directors for each commission is currently separate, Auch said a board merger could garner more interest in farmers wanting to become directors.

“I think it’s more likely that we’ll have more people willing to be gung-ho if there are less positions to fill,” he said.

“I would rather see fewer people who are excited about being there, rather than just filling seats.”

However, concerns could arise over combining the two organizations.

At the Alberta Barley Commission’s annual general meeting in Banff in December, a vote to discuss the possibility of merging the commissions was narrowly defeated.

Chair David Bishop said the barley commission will be able to participate in merger talks because both groups share administrative staff, but members will still have to pass a merger motion at their next annual general meeting in order for the process to move forward.

While there may be concerns, he said lots of information will be in place to inform farmers of potential changes.

“Most farmers, when they see information, they can make an informed decision. That has to happen,” he said.

“It’s great to have a conversation. This is just a start of the conversation to see where it leads.”

Bishop noted the potential merger wouldn’t be the first time organizations have joined forces.

In Manitoba, barley and wheat growers are represented by one organization, while Grain Farmers of Ontario represents multiple crops.

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