Ontario farmers may have a radically different system for selling process vegetables next year, but producers and industry watchers don’t understand why the change is necessary.
News leaked in July that the Farm Products Marketing Commission, a regulatory agency established by the Ontario government, was considering removing the marketing authority of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers.
The OPVG, a marketing board, negotiates prices, terms and conditions with processing companies on behalf of growers. The commission proposed replacing the marketing board with a free market system for selling process vegetables such as tomatoes, green peas, cucumbers and carrots.
The plan surprised many in Ontario’s farm community, including agricultural economist Al Mussell.
“This came out of left field,” said Mussell, research lead for Agri-Food Economic Systems, an independent research organization.
The situation is comparable to the removal of the single desk authority of the Canadian Wheat Board but with a couple of massive differences, Mussell said.
• Terminating the processing vegetable marketing board hasn’t been publicly discussed or analyzed.
• Most Ontario growers are satisfied with the existing system.
“You think back to the CWB. (It was) a wrenching public debate. Lots of analysis and information (was) provided on both sides,” Mussell said.
“We seem to have nothing like that here. No sort of explanation of the prices that farmers (receive) would be significantly higher if we didn’t have this darn marketing board, or the marketplace has changed and the marketing board … is stuck in the world of 10 years ago.”
Moving to a free market system, in which growers sign contracts with processors, is risky for producers because there may be only one or two local buyers for certain commodities, Mussell said.
“You could run into some real issues with processors dictating the terms of trade.”
OPVG president Francis Dobbelaar said in a letter to the commission said imposing a free market system for processing vegetables contradicts the province’s position on other agricultural commodities.
“We are unclear as to the problem the commission is attempting to address,” Dobbelaar said.
“We are having a great deal of difficulty reconciling government policy that purports to defend supply management … while at the same time eliminating growers’ rights to bargain collectively for fair and reasonable prices.”
With the CWB, the government could and did argue that a sizable percentage of growers opposed the single desk system.
Mussell said there isn’t a comparable argument in this case.
“There doesn’t seem to be any significant movement on the grower side saying we’re being inhibited by a marketing board.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is backing the vegetable growers and their efforts to maintain the current system.
“The Ontario Federation of Agriculture supports grower choice in how their given commodity is marketed,” said president Don McCabe.
Producers can comment on the commission’s proposal to rescind the OPVG’s marketing powers until Aug. 12.
Farmers and ag groups have asked the province to extend the consultation period, but the deadline remained the same as of today.