You know it’s time for the Crop Production Show in Saskatoon when the temperature drops down to “wear your warmest coat.” This year’s show had the same format as the past two years, with a trade show on the exhibition grounds on one side of the city, a handful of meetings at the Saskatoon Inn on the opposite end of town and more formal sessions downtown.
All of the major commodity organizations that collect levies from Saskatchewan farmers held their AGMs along with the show. Because I’ve been trying to understand how they all work, I took it on as a personal challenge to attend as many as possible. Even with grit, determination and a lot of coffee, I only managed six. (The Sask Winter Cereals Development Commission meeting was held before I got to Saskatoon, I left town before the Sask Mustard meeting, and the Canary Seed Development Commission held its meeting simultaneously with other AGMs.)
I won’t try to tell you it was a hardship. Each meeting featured friendly people, cushioned chairs, coffee and sometimes snacks. However, it’s hard to believe that if we were starting this system from scratch we’d organize research and market development funding in a way that legally requires nine AGMs per year.
One of the problems with holding nine separate AGMs is poor attendance. At least two of the associations barely had enough actual levy-paying farmers in the audience to meet quorum. And quorum is not very onerous — for example, SaskFlax only needs 20 qualified farmers. (Of course there were still lots of people in the rooms — researchers, government analysts, out-of-province visitors and staff from the other associations filled out the room and helped drink the coffee.)
These meetings are funded through farmer levies. These are the meetings where our staff and board members explain how they’ve spent our money, and what results they’re hoping to achieve. This is our chance to speak up if we have an idea, or find out if we have something to complain about. Not all farmers grow all crops, so I’ll give most of you a pass on not wanting to discuss the detailed financial statements for Sask Mustard. And Saskatchewan is big — not everyone has time to drive 10 hours round-trip to sit around at an AGM seconding motions to reappoint auditors. But across town at the trade show, a record 20,425 people turned up to look at the latest machinery. You would think more than 0.1 per cent of these people could have come out to the SaskFlax AGM. (I know. Not everybody at the trade show is a farmer and not all farmers grow flax. But you see how nicely the math worked out.)
And so, I offer five reasons you should make an effort to attend as many commodity association meetings as you can next year.
Five reasons to go to the AGM
Reason 1: Meet the people running things. Maybe you don’t have a complaint or even a question. But you might one day. If you take the time to go to the AGM and meet the people running these organizations, it will be more comfortable for you to phone them up when you have a question. And, you’ll have a little more information about the candidates when it’s time to vote in the next election.
Reason 2: Get the jump on next year’s research. At all of these meetings, there were lists of research projects that we’re funding. Maybe there’s something on these lists that would solve one of your problems. If you know the research is underway, you can watch for results, or phone board members to find out how studies are progressing.
Reason 3: Take home free stuff. Of course it’s not free — you’ve already paid for it. But if you don’t show up to collect your Sask Oat Development Commission oatmeal bowl or your Sask Barley beer mug, someone else will take it home.
Reason 4: Bring your voice forward. If you don’t think an organization is spending enough money or time researching a problem unique to your area, there’s no use complaining on coffee row that it’s a conspiracy. Unless the board members or staff hear about your problem, it’s entirely possible that they don’t even know you’re mad. Staying away from the AGM as a vote of protest will not make things better.
Reason 5: There could be an interesting resolution. There were several resolutions at this year’s AGMs. Most of the them were spearheaded by Dave Sefton, SaskFlax board member. He wanted to make sure that all of these organizations will work together with one voice when the new Liberal government is ready to talk about carbon emissions and carbon credits for farmers. To make sure there was co-operation, Dave Sefton took his resolution to all of the AGMs I attended. (He found other farmers to bring the resolution to the mic at some meetings, just for variety.)
Dave Sefton’s carbon credit resolutions passed unanimously at every meeting. That wasn’t the case with the resolution that Mossbank farmer Cherilyn Nagel brought to the floor at the SaskPulse meeting. Her resolution called for the SaskPulse levy to be made voluntary.
Most commodity organization levies are refundable, and are charged on a dollars per tonne basis. SaskPulse has a non-refundable levy of one per cent of all gross sales of pulses and soybeans. After a discussion where some farmers pointed to the organization’s current large surplus (it has current assets of $28M), and others pointed to the profit and cropping options that farmers have gained through SaskPulse’s breeding programs, the resolution passed.
However, the resolution was non-binding and won’t necessarily be implemented. SaskPulse chair Tim Wiens committed to reporting back on the issue at next year’s AGM. Non-binding resolutions can seem frustrating if you’re actually at the meeting, but with less than 50 farmers in the room for the AGM, it hardly seems fair to be passing resolutions that must be implemented.
Another non-binding resolution was passed at the SaskWheat AGM. While other farmer-run cereal organizations have signed up to join Cereals Canada, the SaskWheat board has been a lone holdout, waiting to see if Cereals Canada would, in its view, be beneficial for farmers. After hearing the Saskatchewan Ag Minister, Lyle Stewart, encourage SaskWheat to join Cereals Canada, the levy-paying farmers at the SaskWheat AGM voted in favour of joining.
Other farm meetings
If you live in Alberta, your comparable AGMs were held at FarmTech in Edmonton from January 25 to 28. Manitoba farmers may still have time to get to CropConnect in Winnipeg for your meetings on February 10 and 11.
Those lucky farmers in the B.C. Peace River region only need to go to one AGM. All of their levies are collected by the B.C. Grain Industry Development Council, which will hold its Annual General Meeting in mid-June.