I had no idea which way the vote would go. I knew there were people in favour and I also knew there were some opposed and I was pretty sure they would be vocal.
This year’s CropConnect Conference in Winnipeg had a layer of complexity and drama to it. At five of the commodity group AGMs that were scheduled to take place during the two-day conference, members would vote on a resolution to amalgamate into a new group called the Manitoba Crop Alliance.
A fragile whisper of an idea that took shape over about five years would come to this moment — a ballot with two boxes: one for in favour and one for opposed. It wasn’t just one moment, though. It was five.
In order for the resolution as presented to pass, there needed to be a two-thirds majority in favour at each of the five participating AGMs. An AGM without quorum would cripple the process. An AGM without the required yah votes would do the same. The amalgamation of Corn, Winter Wheat, Sunflowers and Wheat and Barley into the Manitoba Crop Alliance hung in the balance of what was a full plate of unknowns.
The background work
It would be the culmination of years of work and strategizing done by the staff and boards of those groups. I know this. I was a part of it once. I am the communications director for the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, a group that was once involved in the proposed amalgamation but took a step back in 2018.
I sat in those meetings. I wanted so badly for every farmer in those meetings to know and appreciate the watershed moment they were voting on. I wanted them all to understand the hard work that went into developing a plan that really did try to address all of the concerns raised by the farmer-members of the participating organizations.
I have wanted this for a long time. When I was involved in it, I would write press releases and click “send” as though the world was about to change. I would brace the various executive directors for what I thought would be a deluge of requests for interviews.
They weren’t met with complete silence, but close to it. Crickets make a noise, right. No. There were calls. There was interest amid media. Farmers are hard to reach, though, and it’s hard to get a reaction out of them when what’s being proposed doesn’t really change anything on their end. “Sounds good,” they’d say. “Didn’t that happen already?”
The communications people behind this amalgamation process did everything they could to reach people, but rarely did farmers engage.
A picture emerged for me about just how growers interact with their commodity groups, and I get it, but it was different.
I do believe commodity groups offer something incredibly unique and important to the agricultural industry. I’m on their payroll to say things like this, but I am also a farmer who pays check-off to the organization. As a farmer, I want independent, unbiased groups to exist. It’s vital.
I thought this process would strike a nerve and either evoke fierce approval or opposition. This did not happen.
I attended most of the AGMs and voted at the ones I could. I was nervous at all of them. Each one of them was like walking into a potential war zone. I would scan the attendees and think about who would vote which way, as if generating lists of allies and enemies for when war would break out. It never came to that, but every time I entered the Wellington A at the Victoria Inn in Winnipeg, I was ready for the worst.
It was a secret ballot. There was time for discussion, but when it came time to vote, people checked a box and stood up for their ballot to be collected.
The person in front of me at one of the AGMs voted in opposition to the idea and this set the tenor for me. It wasn’t going to pass. That’s where my head went. That single ballot that I saw, but wasn’t supposed to see, represented a silent majority of people who couldn’t be bothered to speak up. They would just vote “opposed” and this whole thing would be dead in the water.
That AGM was relatively early on Day 1. I had the rest of that day and the whole of the next to get through, my mind running amuck with theories.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was the closing keynote speaker. The results of the vote would be presented after his talk. It would be the final announcement of the conference.
The auditors read out the results from each of the AGMs, in escalation from Sunflowers to the pivotal Wheat and Barley. Every AGM had quorum and every one achieved a two-thirds majority. I was relieved. I couldn’t have been happier for the many board members and staff that worked hard to see this through, no doubt having to battle uncertainty and doubt along the way.
I am looking forward to seeing how the Manitoba Crop Alliance will take shape, and you should be, too.