by SUSAN MANN
A marriage between two Ontario bean producers’ organizations hasn’t yet taken place but there is already some discord.
The Ontario Coloured Bean Growers’ Association wants the producer vote on a merger proposal between itself and the Ontario Bean Producers’ Marketing Board to proceed even though the marketing board formerly withdrew from the process last month. The marketing board, which represents white pea bean growers, sent a letter to the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, which is conducting the vote, dated Sept. 18 saying it was withdrawing from the process. Marketing board directors voted eight to one to pull out of the merger, according to an Oct. 1 marketing board press release.
The vote will go ahead anyway despite the marketing board’s opposition to it being held. Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission chair Geri Kamenz told both organizations in a Sept. 21 letter the commission will proceed with a producer vote this month, the release says.
Kamenz says for about 1.5 years a steering committee made up of representatives from both the white bean and coloured bean boards has been developing a proposal for amalgamation. “After such a long and robust process that clearly identified all of the benefits to growers, to be fair and respectful of bean producers’ wishes we’re going to proceed with the vote.” That way growers can express their opinion on whether a proposed merged board would more efficiently and effectively work with the stakeholders in the industry to grow the edible bean sector.
The bean marketing board is now requesting a meeting with Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin “to express its concerns about the process and with the commission’s direction,” the Oct. 1 bean marketing board release says.
Bean marketing board chairman Grant Jones says they’re not against the merger. But the commission changed some of the terms of the original proposal and the new imposed conditions are no longer in the best interests of Ontario’s white bean growers.
Jones says one of their biggest concerns is the board could always negotiate pick and drying charges on all white beans in Ontario. Under the commission’s new proposal, the marketing board would only be allowed to negotiate pick and drying charges on the beans going through the pool.
Only about 10 per cent of Ontario’s white bean production goes through the pool, he explains, noting “we’re disappointed that we’re not allowed to negotiate the pick and drying on all the beans because a lot of producers want that aspect of it regardless of whether they put them in the pool or not.”
Kamenz says the commission did not substantively change the proposal. The white bean board had an implicit understanding that the ability to negotiate pick and drying charges would continue. But “we were very clear and said growers need to be able to collaborate with processors, build relationships with processors and negotiate their own pick and drying charges,” he explains, noting the commission’s sense is Ontario has progressive growers who are able to negotiate contracts with processors. The province has a vibrant processing community that is aggressively looking for growers to work with and they will negotiate fair and equitable contracts. Growers no longer need the white bean board to negotiate on behalf of all producers.
Kamenz adds the vote is the white and coloured bean growers’ opportunity to say whether or not they support a new organization that more effectively and efficiently meets their needs.
Coloured bean growers association chairman Dave Woods says the producer vote should still be held despite the marketing board’s withdrawal from the merger process. “There are lots of efficiencies that can be gained by having one organization. It makes no sense to have two organizations when we’re essentially dealing with the same crop.”
Having one organization will eliminate duplication of items, such as staff, buildings and director expenses, and free up a significant amount of money for variety and herbicide research. “The industry is small now and we simply cannot afford those duplications,” Woods explains. “There’s just not enough money left over for us to do what we need to do for the growers.”
Another benefit white bean growers will get from amalgamation is they will be able to market their crop outside of Ontario, Woods says. “That is something they’ve never had before.”
Woods agrees the commission did make some changes to the proposal. But it’s still very important to let producers vote on the merger.
In fact, Woods says the amalgamation will mean less regulation and the white bean marketing board’s ability “to regulate the dealers is no longer something that’s palatable within the industry.”
About the marketing board’s concern with the changed proposal, Woods says it’s a non-issue with the growers. “Let’s ask the growers and if I’m wrong, I’m wrong.”
Jones says the marketing board representing white bean producers is urging all of its growers to ensure “they weigh all the facts before they vote” and to understand the proposal in the voter package isn’t the same as the one presented to growers during meetings this summer. Sixty to 70 of the 562 white bean producers in Ontario attended meetings on July 3 and 5. There is 70,000 acres of white bean production in the province.
Jones says the commission approved the steering committee’s proposal on June 7. But sometime after the producer meetings, the commission changed the proposal, Jones says. The commission didn’t give an explanation as to why it changed the proposal, he notes. “I know what happened but I don’t want to put that on paper.”
Jones and Woods say the voter packages will go out to all bean farmers starting next week after Thanksgiving. The mail-in voting will be held the end of the month.
Woods predicts the vote “will be overwhelmingly in favour of the merger.”
There are 400 coloured bean growers growing 40,000 acres in Ontario, Woods says. BF
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