by SUSAN MANN
After almost three years of working to develop a viable stable funding proposal, the Ontario Berry Growers’ Association says it’s joining forces with the Ontario Highbush Blueberry Growers’ Association to form one group representing berry growers in the province.
The proposal still has to clear a few hurdles before it can be implemented.
First it has to be put to a vote of producers, and it’s the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission that will conduct the vote, likely in October or November, according to an Ontario Berry Growers press release.
Kevin Schooley, executive director of the Ontario Berry Growers’ Association, says the date for the vote hasn’t been determined yet.
The proposal calls for the new organization to be named Berry Growers of Ontario, the release says. The goal is for the organization to be in place by the fall of 2017.
Another hurdle the proposal has to clear if the producer vote is successful is Ontario government approval.
Schooley says the proposal will mean there will be one organization representing the strawberry, raspberry and blueberry growers in the province. The new organization will have an estimated 300 to 400 berry grower members.
The idea of the proposal is also to have a stable source of funding to pay for marketing and promotion activities and dedicated research for each of the three berry commodities. Schooley says in almost all cases government research projects require industry participants to pay some of the costs.
It will be mandatory for growers to join the new organization and pay the acreage fee. Currently, the Ontario Berry Growers fee is $150 annually and it’s voluntary.
The new fees are proposed to be $50 per acre of bearing fruit for growers with two or more acres. For example, a grower with one acre of strawberries and one acre of raspberries would be required to pay the acreage fee to the new organization, he says.
Under the current voluntary fee-paying structure, berry grower groups have a difficult time funding research and promotional work, he explains. “We’re really hoping that we can take advantage of government programs” once the new group is up and running.
The proposed new nine-member board will be made up of three growers from each of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. The chair will be elected from the broad.
Schooley says before the vote is held, there will be public meetings and webinars to explain the proposal. The package for mailed to voters will also contain a mail-in ballot and information on the proposal.
Most growers who are currently members of the berry growers and blueberry growers groups are quite familiar with the proposal.
“We’ve asked for support from the members and there have been a lot of signatures in favour of this,” he says. “We’re feeling fairly optimistic (that it will pass).”
The new organization won’t be setting prices, and it will not determine how many acres each producer can grow. BF