Manitoba crop groups officially on merger track

(Photo courtesy United Soybean Board)

Five Manitoba-based crop producer associations, nearly all of which already work out of the same building, have a memorandum of understanding to work toward forming a single merged grower group.

The Manitoba Corn Growers Association (MCGA), Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers Association (MPSG), National Sunflower Association of Canada (NSAC) and the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Association (MWBGA), all of which are headquartered at Carman, Man., announced their MOU Tuesday along with the Winnipeg-based Manitoba Flax Growers Association (MFGA).

“This MOU signals a more formalized relationship between all the involved commodity groups as we work together to explore new and innovate ways in how our organizations can improve efficiencies and deliver maximum value to our memberships,” Pam de Rocquigny, joint general manager since January for the MWBGA and MCGA, said in a release.

The five groups said they plan to hire an advisor by early June, to come up with a a work plan that includes “timelines and consultation with members.” According to the groups’ preliminary timeline, member consultations would start in about December.

The groups emphasized Tuesday they have “no predetermination of what this common commodity organization will eventually look like,” except that they would make sure farmers from each commodity organization “will have a strong, critical voice in shaping this merger.”

The MOU follows more than three years of talks on how the groups could “better work together to maximize member value,” the groups said.

Retired MCGA general manager Theresa Bergsma told the Manitoba Co-operator in February that the “seed” for the idea came from one southern Manitoba grower, Danny Penner of Halbstadt, who called on commodity groups to make better use of checkoff funds through a merger.

A motion around the board table was passed in November 2014 to begin investing “minimal dollars” pursuing the idea of “working together to increase efficiencies,” later followed by monthly meetings on the topic, the groups said.

For example, Bergsma noted in February, most commodity groups have their own specific agronomists, but could benefit from improved co-ordination and efficiency by working under one blanket body.

However, if growers expect to see reduced commodity checkoffs as a result of a merger, that’s “not necessarily going to happen,” Bergsma said at the time. “It is more about using the money and then leverag(ing) it.”

“Good farming is about growing more than one crop. I represent one farm that grows multiple crops,” Jason Voth, chair of MPSG’s board, said in Tuesday’s joint release. “This merger makes sense.”

The notion of a merged provincial-level body for multiple crop commodities isn’t new by itself. Grain Farmers of Ontario, for example, has represented that province’s corn, soy and wheat growers since 2008, plus its barley and oat growers since mid-2015.

The MPSG, for another example, has operated since 1983, collected checkoffs since 1989 and worked out of Carman since 2000. The MWBGA formed in 2013 and began jointly collecting spring wheat and barley checkoffs the following February, also setting up an “administrative support agreement” with Manitoba Corn Growers.

The five Manitoba groups, along with the Manitoba Canola Growers Association, Manitoba Oat Growers Association and Manitoba Seed Growers Association, have also already begun holding their annual general meetings at a single event, the CropConnect Conference.

Other “like-minded” commodity groups may also join the merger talks, as long as they have the “same level of commitment to delivering value and increasing profitability among their farmer members,” the five groups said Tuesday.

Other interested organizations will have an opportunity to join the working group in April 2018, after the first phase of the merger process has been completed, the five groups said. — Network

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