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Editor’s Column: What’s the value of our time?

These are action-packed days in the world of ag commodity groups. Funding cuts at the Canola Council, office doors closing at the Flax Council and a collection of Manitoba commodity groups discussing merging into one mega-organization. There are a lot of things happening.

Yet when I attended a few of the Saskatchewan commodity group AGMs in Saskatoon during Crop Week, there was barely a mention of these developments and almost no open discussion or debate.

Sure, there is a lot of business on each group’s AGM agenda that legally must be done. Even the Saskatchewan Pulse Grower’s executive director Carl Potts can only do so much to spice up the resolution to re-appoint the auditor.

But with the exception of two brief moments — a SaskWheat resolution about whether the organization should join Cereals Canada, and a question from the floor about research funding at the SPG meeting — almost nothing happened at any of these AGMs that wasn’t printed in the annual report. Anyone who read the report beforehand and wasn’t running for office would have gotten very little value from turning up in person.

Surely there must be some information or potential discussion topic that wasn’t included in the report? Something of value we could take away in exchange for our time?

When information is presented as if there is no need for any debate, non-board member farmers sitting passively in the audience are left wondering if there was any need to attend.

Attracting an audience

I am the author of a couple of plays. As a semi-amateur in the world of theatre, I don’t pretend to know all the rules, but the one unbreakable rule I do know is, “you can’t bore the audience.” Writers, directors and actors always keep in mind that people have lots of other ways to spend their time — they just won’t stay in their seats for a dull play.

Obviously, this rule does not apply to the playwright’s mom, but I can’t be sure the mothers of any of the staff of the Saskatchewan commodity associations would turn up voluntarily at these AGMs.

I’m not saying I’d like to see SaskWheat’s new president Laura Reiter singing karaoke to close debate on resolutions (though for all I know, she might be quite good). But if I’m going to take time to drive to Saskatoon and sit through the meeting, it would be great if organizers could bring something to the meeting that isn’t on the internet. Maybe a researcher could bring interesting news about agronomy recommendations? A director might share a personal story about what being part of the organization means to him or her? What about an open and honest discussion of the most difficult challenges the organization is facing?

When farmer members are engaged enough to come and sit in the room for the AGM, it’s a shame not to take advantage of that opportunity to either give them some inside information or learn something from their experience and knowledge.

During the long, cold season of winter farm meetings, we all know that not all presentations are equally interesting. Some speakers’ time slots pass quickly — they hold our attention with their speaking style and teach us something useful. During Tom Wolf’s sprayer presentations at CropSphere, it was great fun to watch a young farmer’s eyes light up when he realized there was a simple, do-it-yourself solution to his sprayer problem. But that kind of thing doesn’t happen at every meeting session.

I’m not suggesting presenters tap dance while they discuss data. Substance doesn’t always come in a glitzy package. But meeting planners, especially AGM organizers, need to remember they’re competing with all the information we can get at home through our internet connections.

The details

Here’s some brief background on the items previously mentioned:

Canola Council of Canada: This is the organization funded by farmers, canola handlers, input companies and processors. Some of the levy dollars you pay to your provincial canola organization are sent to the CCC.

Late last fall there were reports that some industry members wanted to cut funding, and the CCC board was looking to lower costs for 2018 by up to 30 per cent.

On January 16 The Western Producer reported that Richardson International was pulling all of its funding from the CCC, the Flax Council of Canada and Soy Canada — total funding of over $1M annually.

Most farmers respect the agronomic information the CCC provides through its unbiased agronomists, its helpful website and its well-organized events.

The Flax Council of Canada: It is the same story at the Flax Council, where the board has gone so far as to close its office, though they will maintain the website and continue to answer phone calls.

Manitoba: At CropConnect, Manitoba growers will discuss merging several commodity organizations into one. Eric Fridfinnson, chair of the Manitoba Flax Growers Association spoke about this briefly at the SaskFlax AGM. He said that with the current structure, there was a “danger of too large a percentage of our budget being taken up by overhead.” And that, he said was the weakest argument for a merger. Others included the ability to have a larger, more professionally managed office, a mandate to deal with non-commodity-specific issues like herbicide-resistant weeds and the fact that a multi-commodity structure would better represent the structure of most Manitoba farms.

SaskWheat: After a few years of discussion and a previous failed resolution, members of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission voted to join Cereal Canada, a national industry organization.

SPG: At the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers AGM, a former SPG chair asked about the organization’s research funding agreement with the Crop Development Centre.

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