Check-off freeloaders are bad for their business

If you actually follow a commis-sion’s activities and you don’t agree with how check-off dollars are being spent, voice your concerns. Maybe even consider putting your name forward as a director. | Screencap via saskcrops.com

Oilseeds, cereals, pulses, specialty crops — almost all crops have a producer checkoff to fund research, market development and a host of initiatives guided by elected producers.

As farmers, this is our money and these are our organizations. Don’t whine about paying levies unless you take the time to see the work being done and how the money is being invested.

An annual meeting is required for each organization, and this year meetings in all three prairie provinces will be held virtually for obvious reasons. Saskatchewan organizations will be first out of the gate and have teamed up to hold their AGMs on Jan. 11-13.

If you’ve contributed a levy, you’re a registered producer and you get a vote. On commodities where you aren’t a registered producer, you can still observe the meeting and listen to market outlook speakers.

Figuring out how to do all this in giant Zoom calls has been a bit daunting, but hopefully it can be accomplished with a minimum of technical difficulties. All the Saskatchewan organizations have worked together to make the process as seamless as possible for participants.

Just log onto www.saskcrops.com and you can see the meeting schedule and you can register for as many of the meetings as you like. It won’t be as comprehensive as the regular in-person meetings, but the upside is that you can easily participate in the meetings for numerous commodities.

All the organizations also have websites and send out newsletters. As well, their annual reports are public documents.

In Saskatchewan, levies are mandatory, but refundable for all the commodities except pulses. Saskatchewan Pulse Growers was the first such organization established and that checkoff is not refundable. After SPG was set up, it was easier for the provincial government to allow the establishment of commissions when dissenters could be assured of refunds.

Fortunately, the number of producers requesting refunds is a very small percentage. However, it’s disconcerting to note that producer participation is often very low as well.

Some of the larger organizations including Sask Wheat, SPG and SaskCanola often have contested elections, but only a minor percentage of producers take the time to vote. It shouldn’t be that hard to read the candidate biographies and mark an electronic or mail-in ballot, but most producers do not make the effort.

Maybe it’s tough to make choices based on short bios when you don’t necessarily know the producers running, but apathy probably plays a bigger role.

Producers who request and receive refunds forfeit their right to vote for directors and at AGMs. Unfortunately, these freeloaders get most of the same benefits as levy payers. Whether it is new varieties developed with the assistance of producer money, new minor-use registrations for crop protection products or crop pest alerts, there’s no practical way to exclude the freeloaders.

I suspect it’s mostly the same producers requesting refunds for all their crops every year. You can’t opt out of paying taxes and get away with it, but there are no ramifications for check-off freeloaders. Because they remain anonymous, there isn’t even any public shaming.

If you actually follow a commission’s activities and you don’t agree with how check-off dollars are being spent, voice your concerns. Maybe even consider putting your name forward as a director. If all else fails, you have the right to apply for a refund of your check-off dollars each year.

But if you’re just applying for refunds because you can, shame on you.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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