OFA: Processing vegetable growers lose critical bargaining power

By Peggy Brekveld, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Behind every agricultural policy decision, there are real people affected. Real farmers.

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Near the end of 2019, the provincial government announced critical changes to how processing tomatoes and carrots are marketed in Ontario. The announcement has significant ramifications for growers and processors in the province, but it seems that processors have been given the upper hand in the new contract negotiation process.

On December 11, 2019, Minister Hardeman released a statement outlining changes to the processing vegetable system. In amending Regulation 440, Hardeman states that they have “created a system for carrots and tomatoes with flexibility to let growers and processors work together, and to let the growers of each processor decide how they want to proceed” with contract negotiations.

It sounds conciliatory, but in fact, the changes remove the collective bargaining power of processing vegetable growers in Ontario. It creates an environment where the grower’s representative board, Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers’ (OPVG), will no longer have the ability to represent growers in negotiations, or to enforce contracts. It basically removes a tool from the farmer’s toolbox.

The changes beg the following questions – how will farmers be able to ensure that contracts are paid as negotiated? How does appointing processor representation to a grower’s negotiation committee help balance the negotiations?

Real people, real farmers with livelihoods and businesses on the line are asking.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) shares the concern of many in this sector about the ramifications of this decision.

OFA supports the OPVG position that the new regulations will devastate Ontario farm families. OPVG Chair Dave Hope stated in a December 17 statement that “the largest impact is a reduction in collective bargaining power being removed from the growers’ elected representatives and handed to the processors.”

OFA values the process of organized, collective marketing and the inherent value it brings to our agri-food sector. We are concerned that, although Minister Hardeman states that he consulted extensively with stakeholders, the needs of growers appears to have been ignored in this process.

The agri-food sector makes tremendous contributions to the province of Ontario. From the obvious food, fuel and fibre, to the economic powerhouse that creates jobs, supports rural communities and delivers vital GDP to the province’s coffers. These contributions are made by primary producers and processors in the province. And they deserve equal respect and consultation when any regulations are changed that impact the ability of our farm businesses to operate in a profitable and sustainable way.

The provincial government and the Farm Products Marketing Commission have a responsibility to the entire food value chain, and not just a segment of it. It includes real people, real farmers.