by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Consultation with pork producers went interactive Wednesday, with Ontario Pork using technology that is new to the farm community to reach hundreds of producers and explain its proposed risk management program to producers.
The technology used is called a Telephone Town Hall meeting. Earlier in the week, an automated dialer called 1,500 pork producers, using telephone numbers in Ontario Pork’s database and encouraged them to take part in the meeting held at noon on Wednesday. About 600 took part in the call.
We will be planning one at some point in December, says LeaAnne Hodgins, communications manager, Ontario Cattlemen’s Association. “We are building our database right now. . . . We’re looking at something in the thousands.”
Ontario’s beef and pork organizations have submitted joint proposals for risk management programs to the provincial government. (See Pork, Beef Producers Promote Risk Management Proposals, November 24.)
Ontario Pork used the firm Stratcom Strategic Communications, says Patrick O’Neil, strategist, markets, policy and government relations. He describes the technology as a reverse telephone conference call but “much easier to use.” Producers just had to be around the phone at noon and pick it up and stay on the line. They were able to press a button to get in a queue to ask a question. When they were asked a survey question they were able to answer by pushing a button on a touch tone phone. Farmers with rotary phones could still listen in, if not respond to questions. A handful of producers also called in and listened on their cell phones. They weren’t able to answer the survey questions.
“It is exciting technology and very affordable,” says O’Neil. In terms of cost, “this was more than twice as effective as mailing all of our members a letter,” and “certainly cheaper” than mailing producers a package.
Wilma Jeffray, Ontario Pork’s chair, says it was easy to reach out to many producers at once. “All of this gives us a very broad consultation and it really helps with our discussions with the minister and also with cabinet colleagues.”
“This was another step in the consultation and it was very helpful.”
“From Ontario Pork’s perspective, I don’t know when the last time if ever we’ve been able to have two-way dialogue with such a vast percentage of our producers,” says director Steve Illick, Wellington County. He points out that even an annual meeting has perhaps 200 councilors as representatives and a few producers sitting on the sidelines without voting status.
”We had the best part of 50 per cent pick up the phone and get on the call,” Illick says. “You could mail out to 100 per cent but you don’t get to have a two way dialogue with 100 per cent or 50 per cent or often times five per cent.”
“From an engagement perspective, this is landmark in that respect.”
The surveys indicated that more than 85 per cent of producers said they would either likely or certainly take part in a business risk management strategy program as proposed to the provincial government. “It shows the interest and the very great need for that type of program,” Jeffray says. “We are encouraged by the result.”
“It speaks to the need and the desire to have that program achieved.”
O’Neil said more than 80 per cent of producers said they would help with the campaign “in one way or another.”
“You are after a cabinet decision to say yes, we will support this,” Jeffray says.
“There is a great cost if nothing is done.”
The Ontario Pork website says the organization represents 2,300 farmers, but actual numbers are now considerably lower than that. A 20 per cent reduction in herds represents an almost 20 per cent reduction in producers, says Keith Robbins, director, communications and consumer marketing, Ontario Pork. Statistics for 2010 production aren’t compiled yet.
In December, beef producers will be asked the same type of questions, the Cattlemen’s Hodgins says. BF