Vegetable growers face changes

A proposed restructuring plan for the troubled Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers marketing board leaves little room for ousted former board members to contribute to governance in the first years of its relaunch.

And if the regulations released for public feedback in June by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission are passed without changes, processing vegetable growers and their new board won’t be electing the chair of the board any time soon.

The marketing commission proposes that it appoint that chair position, a practice it uses on only two other of the 22 marketing boards it oversees.

If passed, the regulations would require board members who sit for three consecutive terms to step down for two years before running again. The retroactive requirement would apply to eight of nine previous board members.

Their earliest opportunity to run for re-election would be late 2019, but it would apply only to some. That’s because the commission is proposing to stagger elections for two-year terms and to reboot the board by introducing a mix of two-year elected and one-year appointed positions.

Fall 2017 is the target for implementing the new board.

Francis Dobbelaar, the board’s former chair and chair of the Processing Vegetable Growers’ Alliance, a group formed in reaction to the province’s decision to restructure, said his group worries about proposed changes.

“The (agriculture) ministry and the farm products (commission) haven’t really properly rationalized the difficulty in representing all of those different crops and grading and negotiations.”

Loss of expertise at both the board and staff level also damages the organization’s ability to represent growers’ interests, he said.

In a June statement, the alliance expressed concern that the changes would allow the province to control the board for another year because proposed regulations don’t require appointed board members to be active processing vegetable growers in Ontario.

Criteria will be developed once the regulation is made, and growers will be encouraged to apply for the board member appointments, said Magda Wolanowska, a commission spokesperson, by email.

The commission also plans to identify the chair through an application process and will share selection criteria when it’s developed.

“The commission would like to appoint a chair who offers a diverse set of skills to best foster growth and innovation in the sector.”

The province fired the processing vegetable growers’ board and announced plans to restructure the organization in March, citing concerns about deterioration in relations between growers and processors that could do “irreparable harm” to the industry.

Former board members dispute the assertion.

In May, a group of about 100 growers filed a request in Toronto for an Ontario Superior Court of Justice Divisional Court panel to review the provincial action.

They are still awaiting a decision on that request, Dobbelaar said.

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