|Kamenz dishes on proposal motivation
by SUSAN MANN
Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission chair Geri Kamenz’s explanation in a letter to an Ontario politician on why changes are needed to the processing vegetable industry’s marketing structure is being sharply criticized.
On June 28, the commission posted a proposal on the Ontario Regulatory Registry to remove the negotiating authority of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers marketing board and add provisions to turn the board into an industry advisory committee. Comments are due Aug. 12.
In his July 26 letter to Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls, Kamenz said Ontario’s processing vegetable industry has been in continuous decline since the 1960s. Growth in consumer demand is mostly being met by imports.
Kamenz was responding to Nicholls’ July 19 letter seeking more information about the commission’s proposal and questioning its handling of the consultations.
The regulatory posting process is the opportunity for interested people to share their comments and perspectives, Kamenz said.
On the need for change, Kamenz said all processors identify the current marketing structure as rigid and inflexible. It creates barriers and makes “them uncompetitive to their competition.”
In proposing the change, the commission’s analysis included reviewing industry reports going back to the 1980s, looking at market data since the 1960s from all available sources and meeting with many industry watchers and insiders (both growers and processors), he noted.
In the 1940s, there were 18,000 active processing vegetable growers, whereas today there are about 412, he said.
The processing vegetable board has been in place since the 1940s.
“We have moved from a vibrant processing community in many communities, to less than a handful today,” Kamenz wrote. “Ontario is missing an opportunity to grow our market share both here at home as well as in other markets.”
The commission’s proposal “will offer the industry the freedom to choose both how and who they do business with,” he explained.
Nicholls challenged Kamenz’s response. The MPP noted he too has talked to processors. Some have said they want the marketing structure to stay as it is.
Nicholls also said proper consultations must happen on the proposal.
“We believe that has not occurred.”
The commission’s proposal should be put to a vote, he said. Kamenz’s not answering that question “tells me that there’s not going to be a vote,” Nicholls noted.
“This change will be dictated.”
Kamenz didn’t really answer the question on why the commission was proposing changes now, Nicholls added. He said Kamenz tries to justify proposing changes “by taking a trip down memory lane” in the letter.
Nicholls wrote another letter to the commission on Aug. 2. He said the commission chair’s letter generated additional questions and comments.
Fruit, cash crop and sheep producer Marshall Schuyler is so concerned about Kamenz’s handling of the proposal, he has written to Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal.
Schuyler farms in Norfolk County and owns Canada’s largest tart cherry processing business. He said in a telephone interview in proposing a change in how processing vegetable prices are determined, “the commission is going beyond its traditional, historical mandate. They are not the policy makers. The policy makers are the elected representatives we have.”
Major decisions to add or remove powers to marketing boards should be made by elected representatives and not by the commission, he said.
Schuyler currently doesn’t grow processing vegetables but he did previously and is a past chair and a past director on the processing vegetable growers board.
Leamington-area processing vegetable farmer David Epp said his primary concern is the potential end result of removing growers’ ability to collectively negotiate prices. He is also concerned the process to make changes “does not even come close to any kind of a proper fair process.”
In March, processing vegetable growers “went through a public consultation process where the growers overwhelmingly supported the existing system,” he said. “The vast majority of them don’t want to sit directly across from their customer and argue on the final price.”
That’s why growers elect and “invest in directors and staff,” he noted.
Epp agreed there has been attrition among processing vegetable growers and processors “but I assume the attrition here (in the processing vegetable industry) is less than in other industries.”
Schuyler said it’s uncharacteristic for him to get involved in “this kind of stuff” but he felt compelled to do so because “this to me is a fundamental change in the system that will dramatically impact and be detrimental to Ontario agriculture in the long term.”
In his Aug. 3 letter to Leal, Schuyler said the current process requiring processors and the vegetable board to negotiate fair and reasonable prices along with sales terms and conditions results in contracts “that provide a necessary degree of certainty and stability for everyone in the value chain.”
Schuyler said Kamenz’s letter responding to Nicholls’ questions shows the commission chair “has a complete lack of understanding of business in general, and specifically the processing vegetable industry.”
Kamenz said in his letter to Nicholls that the current regulations are, as Nicholls’ indicated, a “proven method.
“That proven method is taking us in a well-established, proven direction; fewer growers, fewer processors, on a road to extinction.”
Schuyler said in his letter raw product pricing has not been an impediment in the processing vegetable industry.
Schuyler said to Leal that it has become clear to him “the real problem here is the leadership at the Farm Products Marketing Commission.”
He also told Leal that Kamenz has provided his view of the world “which in no way reflects reality.”
Kamenz “talks about the free market system. In the free market world I live in, someone who performs as poorly as Mr. Kamenz finds himself unemployed,” Schuyler wrote. BF