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Vegetable farmers not happy with move by Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission to strip Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers of bargaining powers

By John Miner, The London Free Press

DORCHESTER  - 

A proposal to boost Ontario’s vegetable processing industry by removing the collective bargaining powers of the London-based farm association that represents growers could backfire, farmers warned Monday.

Instead of adding processing plants, jobs and producers, the proposed system would discourage farmers from growing perishable vegetable crops because of uncertainty, said Jim Poel, a Middlesex vegetable grower and former head of the association.

In turn, without a steady supply of raw product, processing plants would shut down, he predicted.

“Once they close it is very hard to get them going again,” Poel said.

Catching growers off guard, the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, the provincially appointed body that oversees Ontario’s 21 marketing boards, released a proposal last month to remove the negotiating powers of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers association.

By moving to a free market system, the vegetable processing sector could remain viable and grow, the commission said.

Though vegetable association officials and farmers have reacted to the proposal with dismay, the association that represents processors, Food and Beverage Ontario, praised the plan.

In a letter to the head of the commission, Food and Beverage Ontario said the marketing framework for processing vegetables in Ontario is in need of “a substantial refresh.”

The commission’s proposal will result in an improved environment that will allow Ontario’s processing vegetable sector many new opportunities to grow, attract new investment, and create jobs for Ontario, Food and Beverage Ontario said in its letter.

Farmers and others in the industry have been given until Friday to submit comments to the commission, which said it plans to have its proposals finalized by late September and in place for next year’s crops.

At a meeting of London-area vegetable growers Monday in Dorchester, about 50 growers were told they need to make their opposition to the plan clear to Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal who will have final say over whether the association is stripped of its bargaining powers.

Former agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman, Progressive Conservative MPP for Oxford, said Leal will take the commission’s advice unless there is strong opposition from farmers.

“It is going to require everybody to get your message in: ‘We think what you are doing is wrong,’ ” Hardeman said.

Leal has publicly avoided commenting on the issue, saying it would be inappropriate when he may be asked to review the commission’s final decision.

John Henderson, a 26-year-old vegetable farmer from Kintore, said the proposal to remove collective bargaining powers from the board makes him question the Ontario government’s commitment to agriculture.

“When you are 26 and getting into farming, it is pretty expensive with lots of unknowns. Getting rid of collecting bargaining for that perishable product just adds to that pile of uncertainty,” he said.

jminer@postmedia.com

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