In the past couple of issues of Grainews, I’ve used this space to write about farm research organizations and how they’re spending your checkoff dollars.
This time, I’m taking a break from all that research to focus on farm policy organizations. For now, I’m only including “general” farm organizations — those groups that work for the good of all farmers, without claiming to have a strong bent to the left or right of the political spectrum.
Of course, it’s never really possible to work for all farmers. The industry is too diverse. Cattle owners and grain farmers have different ideas about the ideal price of feed wheat. And farmers have different ideas about what is good in the first place. Ask three farmers about grain marketing and they’ll have at least five opinions. And these opinions will change, depending on the day.
Back in December, I had an opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on farm leadership at the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) annual general meeting. The panel featured APAS president Norm Hall, the president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, Lynn Jacobson, and the vice-president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), Dan Mazier.
I walked into the roomful of farmers fully prepared to fill up awkward silences during the panel discussion, and to work really hard to make sure all three panel members had a chance to talk. As it turned out, my eight-year old probably could have moderated the discussion — the delegates had question after question. Not only was there no awkward silence for me to fill, it was hard for me to get a word in edgewise. Aside from the typical topics, there were questions about promoting farm diversity, using the Workers Compensation Board and making sure farmers have a strong voice in oil and gas transactions.
Nothing came of my worries that the Alberta or Manitoba reps would be left sidelined while the APAS members discussed Saskatchewan issues. There really are no ag issues that only affect Saskatchewan. Lots of our water flows to Manitoba. Lots of our grain rides right through Alberta before it gets on a boat. All three of these farm leaders had lots to say on every topic.
They were especially eager to talk about mentorship — all three are focused on bringing new farm leaders into their organizations.
The leaders and staff of all three of these groups spend a lot of time and energy working with provincial governments (the bureaucracy and elected officials). The goals are to understand the current issues and what farmers need, then to get as much input as possible into provincial and federal ag-related decisions.
These three organizations are also members of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture which, as it says on its website, was “founded in 1935 to provide Canada’s farmers with a single voice in Ottawa.”
Alberta Federation of Agriculture
You might also know Alberta’s Federation of Agriculture by one or more of its former names: Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, Unifarm, or the Farmers’ Union of Alberta.
The AFA’s website says: “Our portfolio includes everything from tire recycling to the World Trade Organization.” They’re not kidding. The theme of their January AGM was water, but they also ran sessions on grain transportation, farm lending and animal care.
As I’ve written in the last couple of columns, a lot of farm research organizations are funded through checkoffs. If you don’t want to join the organization, you have to ask for your money back. Joining the AFA is not automatic like that. You’ll have to go online and fill out a form, or take the time to make a phone call to become an AFA member. Anyone can join. Of course it’s a farm organization, but they also have membership categories for “patrons,” (who I picture as farmer groupies.)
The cost to you is $125 per year, or $325 for three years. Besides the farm advocacy, you’ll get a few other benefits. These include a 15 per cent discount at Mark’s Work Wearhouse, access to a member insurance plan that includes group health insurance and discount travel coverage and a $150 discount on a Farmers of North America membership.
Keystone Agricultural Producers
Any Manitoba farmer or farm groupie can join KAP for an annual fee of $210. You can have your payment deducted from your cheque when you sell certain commodities in Manitoba, or, you can just mail your $210 directly to the KAP office.
Once you’re a member, KAP will send you a weekly, newsy email, and members have access to benefits and discounts including: a discount cell phone package from Rogers, access to group health insurance, a currency risk management program to use when you sell commodities outside of Canada and free on-farm estate planning consultation.
APAS and SARM
As usual, things are more complicated here in Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan’s general farm group is known as APAS — the Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan. APAS is a relatively new organization — it was formed in 2000.
When APAS was formed, its founders were concerned about the cost of recruiting individual members, and the amount of cash and energy it can take to keep members’ payments current. As a result, APAS has a membership structure that might only make sense to people who live in Saskatchewan.
Individual farmers are not APAS members. You become an APAS member when (or if) your local rural municipality joins APAS. (If you’re not from here, you might be surprised to find out that Saskatchewan has 296 rural municipalities. These RMs only have jurisdiction over rural areas — the towns and cities within the rural municipalities have their own separate governance structures.)
If your RM council decides to join APAS, their membership fees are the lower of $0.06 per acre or half a mill based on the 2000 census. (Or, new RM members that join in 2015 can pay an introductory transitional rate of $2,015.)
Saskatchewan farmers who live in member RMs can take advantage of programs that include a 10 per cent discount at Mark’s Work Wearhouse, a $0.02 per litre discount at Petro-Canada and access to a group health insurance plan. While not all residents in APAS member municipalities are farmers, some of these benefits are only available to farmer residents.
APAS has been operating for almost 15 years, but the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, SARM, which has been around since 1905, also keeps a hand in agricultural issues. SARM is primarily focused on municipal issues (such as municipal roads and regulations.) However, many rural councilors and reeves are farmers, so ag issues are a natural topic of discussion at RM meetings and SARM conventions. (I should probably mention that I worked for SARM as an ag policy analyst in the late 1990s.)
At SARM’s 2014 convention topics like UPOV ’91 (plant developers’ rights) PFRA pastures, and grain transportation were prominent on the list of resolutions that SARM members wanted to discuss.
If you’re not a member of your province’s general farm organization, join (or, if you live in Saskatchewan, talk to your RM council.) If you are a member, but haven’t been participating, pay attention. These people are speaking on your behalf. Make sure they’re saying what you want them to say. Don’t feel you know enough about the issues? Start going to the meetings and reading the newsletters. Soon you’ll find an issue that interests you, and one thing will lead to another.