by SUSAN MANN
Processing vegetable growers and others have more time to comment on proposed processing vegetable marketing system changes now that Ontario’s agriculture minister has directed the province’s agriculture regulatory agency to establish open and collaborative consultations.
On June 28, the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission posted a proposal on the Ontario Regulatory Registry to rescind the negotiating authority of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers marketing board and add provisions to turn the board into an industry advisory committee. Comments were due by Aug. 12.
Processing vegetable growers and others have been critical of the 45-day comment period saying it was too short to consider such a dramatic change to the board’s powers and consultations were being held during a time when farmers are busy looking after their crops. Some commentators called for public hearings and a vote on the proposal.
Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal said in an emailed statement provided by his press secretary that he issued a directive Aug. 17 to the commission that “emphasizes the importance of the OFPMC (Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission) establishing an open, collaborative and transparent process for considering the impact of any proposed regulatory amendments.”
Commission chair Geri Kamenz couldn’t be reached for comment.
Growers and others applauded the minister’s move to open up the consultation process.
Francis Dobbelaar, chair of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers board, said “this is a good thing for us, as an organization, and for the growers and industry. It was good decision by the minister.”
“Everybody realizes it takes a little bit more discussion and for everybody to be at the table,” he added.
Dobbelaar said the processing vegetable board doesn’t have a date yet for a meeting it’s trying to set up with processors, the commission and ministry staff. However, meetings will be ongoing and “we’re looking forward to moving in that direction positively. I think there will be good results coming from it.”
Leamington-area farmer David Epp said he’s “thankful to the minister for providing an opportunity now for a proper process.”
Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, the Progressive Conservative agriculture critic, said farmers and others are thankful Leal heeded the calls for more time to consider changes “because we have so many other things we’re doing now in the middle of August.”
The directive “is open ended enough and provides growers and processors with an opportunity to seize this opportunity. He’s indicated we have more time to fully evaluate what’s best for the market,” Barrett noted.
The proposal said “the commission is considering a number of options to enable the processing vegetable sector to remain viable and grow, including modernizing how prices between growers and processors are established or negotiated.”
The commission is also working to determine the roles of industry and the board in “moving to a free market system,” it said.
If approved, the proposal means the Ontario processing vegetable board is slated to lose its authority to negotiate minimum prices and terms of sale for the 14 different crops with processors.
The minister’s directive means the proposal won’t be finalized by September, the original time the commission had intended for the changes to be wrapped up. Implementation was to have been in place for the 2017 processing vegetable crop year, but that too has now been put off due to the directive.
In a telephone interview Leal said his “directive provides clear direction to the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission” about its proposal to change processing vegetable marketing regulations.
Leal said he has 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 processing vegetables.
Asked if he gave the commission specific instructions in the directive on how to develop the consultation plan, Leal said “we wanted to make this process as open, transparent, consultative, co-operative as possible, and we’ll be engaging in that process over the next number of weeks.”
In supporting any proposed changes, the commission needs to consider “a detailed economic analysis of industry competitiveness and opportunities for growth” along with opportunities to facilitate more informed participation of interested parties and stakeholders, he said.
Any proposed changes will have to be posted on the Ontario Regulatory Registry for not less than 60 days, Leal noted. And the posting needs to be “sufficiently detailed so that any policy and economic objectives of the regulatory proposal are clearly articulated.”
Asked if the commission’s proposal to change the processing vegetable marketing system came from the government, Leal said the commission “is an independent, third-party. They embarked on a process.”
Leal said he had to wait for the 45-day comment period to expire before he could issue his directive. It’s his first time issuing a directive to the commission since he became agriculture minister two years ago, but previous agriculture ministers have issued them.
He handed down the directive Thursday (Aug. 17) “because I believe it was very important that the commission, considering its course of action, be informed of the government’s perspective sooner rather than later before it had undertaken a substantial amount of work and completed its deliberations.”
The agriculture minister said he wants to ensure “that we enter into a very consultative, collaborative and robust discussion before any amendments are made.”
About criticisms of Kamenz, the commission’s handling of the proposed changes and calls for Kamenz to be replaced as chair, Leal said, “This is not about an individual. It’s about how the regulatory farm marketing process operates in Ontario.” BF