Ontario’s Leal jumps in on vegetable marketing proposal

(Scott Bauer photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Ontario’s Farm Products Marketing Commission has been ordered to change its approach on proposals to deregulate vegetable contract talks between growers and processors.

Provincial Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal, in a letter dated Wednesday to commission chair Geri Kamenz, said “concerns have been raised about an apparent lack of both adequate and sufficient information and consultation with interested parties regarding the commission’s proposed action.”

The commission in February proposed to amend Regulation 440, which sets out the process for negotiations, the establishment of negotiating agencies and appointments of representatives to said agencies for the marketing of vegetables for processing.

The commission said at the time it had met with vegetable processors and found those companies would rather negotiate “with their own active growers” of a given vegetable.

As Leal put it on Wednesday, the commission proposes to take out 440’s provisions on establishing negotiating agencies and put in provisions establishing an “industry advisory committee.”

The commission’s plan would set out “minimum requirements for active growers of each processor to be participants of the negotiating agency for each vegetable.”

By comparison, the current rule allows Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers and the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Processors Association to name up to 10 appointees to each negotiation agency.

The commission said in February it planned to have its proposed amendments finalized by mid-2016, for use by the industry when negotiating agreements for 2017’s processing vegetable crops.

OPVG protested at the proposal, saying the board doesn’t believe that “changes to a democratic process should occur as a result of concerns expressed by processors or even by a relatively small number of growers.”

OPVG said in March its board has “repeatedly” told the commission that the “overwhelming majority of growers support the present system where elected representatives determine who negotiates annual processing vegetable contracts on behalf of growers.”

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has sided with OPVG on the matter, describing the commission proposal as a “free market” system that “will actually give buyers the market power to dictate prices and terms, consequently benefiting only a few along the value chain,” in the words of OFA member and vegetable grower David Epp.

The current marketing system, Epp said recently on the OFA website, “negotiates competitive prices for Ontario processing vegetable growers, with a balance of power along the entire value chain from grower to processor to the various marketing channels.”

The commission’s proposal, Leal wrote to Kamenz, appears to be motivated by Premier Kathleen Wynne’s recent challenge to grow the province’s agrifood sector, and “I thank you for that.”

However, he added, “without a more open and transparent dialogue on this proposal, it is not clear to me how it may serve the broad policy objectives of the government of Ontario.”

Leal, in his letter, directed the commission to “develop a plan for engagement and consultation with interested parties and stakeholders concerning any proposed amendments to the regulatory framework for the vegetables-for-processing industry.

“To be clear, it is the expectation of the government of Ontario that such amendments, if any, will be consistent with the needs of both producers and processors and will contribute to the government of Ontario’s broad policy objectives of supporting regulated marketing and increasing the number of agriculture-related jobs in Ontario.”

The plan, he said, should include a “detailed economic analysis of industry competitiveness and opportunities for growth… in support of any proposed amendments.”

Information on any specific amendments, he said, should be posted on the Provincial Regulatory Registry for a period of at least 60 days, “ensuring that the posting is sufficiently detailed so that any policy and economic objectives of the regulatory proposal are clearly articulated.”

He also ordered the commission not to carry out any amendments to the existing regulatory framework “until such time as the above-noted plan for engagement and consultation with stakeholders has been successfully carried out and the commission has reported back to me on the results of the implementation of that plan.”

Leal, in his letter, said his expectations “should apply to public engagement on any and all reforms contemplated by the commission on a go-forward basis.” — AGCanada.com Network

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