Alta. organic growers explore check-off fees

Camrose, Alta. — Money problems with farm groups are as perennial as weeds. After the income and expenses were added up at the end of 2019, Organic Alberta had $7,025 more income than expenses.

“It has always been this way. We go from project to project. That is not anything new. It’s not a new problem,” said Charles Newell, Organic Alberta’s president during the association’s annual meeting.

Newell believes funding the provincial organization should not come from projects, donations or money from producers. Instead, a model should be developed where everybody across the country who benefits, or participates, in the organic industry should have a stake in the group’s financial success.

“Processors and certifiers also benefit from having organic certification,” said Newell, who wants some kind of national checkoff with money flowing back to provincial organizations to provide stable funding.

Marilyn Boehm, Organic Alberta executive director, said she doesn’t want to start making cuts to staff and programs which benefit producers.

“We really operate on bare bones. My hope is in the next two years we don’t have to let someone go because we don’t have any funds for it and we have the money to keep this up and continue offering the staff expertise and the great programs.”

Heather Kerschbaumer, Organic Alberta director and farmer, said a previous initiative to approach provincial agriculture groups with refundable checkoffs to share their money was met with resistance.

“A lot of organic producers’ check-off money is going into these other associations and the money is not coming back to the organic association. They are keeping it,” said Kerschbaumer, who used forage seed associations as an example.

“As a forage seed processor, we are the ones that take the levy and submit the levy and we take the levy even on ourselves and we submit that levy,” said Kershbaumer, who believed these groups should return the organic producer’s share.

“I started asking for my levy back because I felt that was very unfair. I feel that everybody is contributing. Organic money is going into these associations. You do have the option. It is a voluntary levy which they take from you and you have the right to ask for it back. You could take some of it back and give it to your organic buddies here if you like.”

As another example, Boehm said organic pulse producers contribute $140,000 to the Alberta pulse growers organization.

David Doerksen, an organic producer from LaCrete said it’s tricky to ask for refunds from commodities because of a set refund period.

“There is only a small window and it’s open twice a year and if you miss the window there is no chance of getting it back,” he said.

Newell said he has talked to officials with Prairie Oat Growers Association, who said they are willing to refund producers money, but it has to be done by each producer.

“I talked to the oat producers and they are very willing to give you your money back off your checkoff, but you have to do it yourself. The association can’t do it. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a lot of money with that original checkoff, but you have to remember that as an organization you can generally multiply that dollar by at least two. If we can collect $1,000, we can probably turn it into $3,000.”

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