by SUSAN MANN
Oat and barley growers who voted in a recent “express of opinion” vote conducted by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission are strongly in favour of joining the Grain Farmers of Ontario.
The mail-in vote was held in early November. Producers voted 77 per cent in favour of the proposal, commission team leader Gordon Stock says by email. Producers who voted “yes” represented 89 pet cent of the production of those voting.
But commission numbers also show that just 15 per cent of eligible growers participated in the voting process, representing about 19 per cent of the provincial oat and barley production. Stock says the commission mailed out 1,643 ballots to oat and barley producers across Ontario. Farmers eligible to participate in the vote were those who produced and marketed oats and/or barley in the 2013 and 2014 crop years.
That means about 246 growers voted.
Oats and barley are grown on 258,000 acres across Ontario, and the crops have farm cash receipts of $82.8 million annually.
Ryan Brown, Grain Farmers vice president of operations, says the commission didn’t tell them the participation numbers. But after hearing them from Better Farming, he says the Oat and Barley Representation Committee, which developed the proposal, really worked hard to try to enable the opportunity for everybody to participate in the vote.
“We would have liked to have seen those numbers be higher but we had a situation this fall with a lot of challenges with harvest that it was likely tough for people to do everything,” he says.
The oat and barley representation committee is made up of farmers, industry officials and a Grain Farmers director. Non-voting members on the committee were an Ontario government official, a Grain Farmers staff person and the committee secretary.
Brown says “we felt that there was a sound process in place to try to engage everybody as much as possible for it (the vote).” Information on the proposal prior to the vote was posted on a website, and the proposal was publicly discussed at meetings and during a webinar in the fall.
Under the proposal farmers selling to mills or licensed elevators will be required to pay a license fee but farm-fed oats and barley and farm-to-farm sales will be exempt from paying the fee. The estimated license fees will be $1.30 per tonne for barley and $1.65 per tonne for oats.
Grain Farmers of Ontario will use the license fees collected for services provided by the organization related to oat and barley research, market development and advocacy.
Brown says there is federal and provincial money “that could be used for research and market development purposes, and as it stands today there isn’t a formal stakeholder group to help direct funding properly.”
Stock says the results show that support for the proposal was stronger among producers who will be paying the fees (80 per cent). “It is estimated that the majority of producers affected by this change are already members of the Grain Farmers of Ontario as they also grow and market corn, soybeans and wheat,” he notes. “These producers are already familiar with the collection of license fees and the services the organization provides to its members.”
The proposal is subjected to a 45-day public comment period on the provincial Regulatory Registry and it will be posted on the registry early next year. The “regulatory amendment process will be completed in mid 2015,” Stock says.
Oat and barley growers currently aren’t represented by a farm group. There was an Oat and Barley Council in Ontario from 2001 to 2010 that brought together the entire value chain. But membership was voluntary, and the organization didn’t have a reliable and sufficient revenue stream.
Commission chair Geri Kamenz and Craig Martin, chair of the oat and barley representation committee, couldn’t be reached for comment. BF