News

Farming: Growers, processors keep sparring

By Hank Daniszewski, The London Free Press

Karl Evans, president of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Processors’ Association and Francis Dobbelaar, chairperson of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers’ Association at an annual meeting of Ontario’s vegetable growers. (HANK DANISZEWSKI, The London Free  Press)

Karl Evans, president of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Processors’ Association and Francis Dobbelaar, chairperson of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers’ Association at an annual meeting of Ontario’s vegetable growers. (HANK DANISZEWSKI, The London Free Press)

There was a brief truce Tuesday at an annual meeting of Ontario’s vegetable growers and the companies that process their harvests.

But it’s clear the power struggle over how prices are set in the industry continues.

In back-to-back speeches at the London meeting, Francis Dobbelaar, chairperson of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers’ Association, said the farmer-led agency should continue to negotiate prices on behalf of its members.

He accused processors of sowing “grower unrest” in a year-long campaign to get the right to negotiate contracts with individual growers.

“It will not promote industry growth. It will destabilize the industry as price transparency disappears and confidence erodes,” he said.

But Karl Evans, president of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Processors’ Association, said companies that buy the vegetables continue to struggle because of rising electricity rates, a smaller Canadian market and fluctuations in the value of the Canadian dollar.

The industry is facing new problems this year because of the costs associated with Ontario’s new cap-and-trade system and the threat of new tariffs with the rise of “Trumpism” in the United States, he said.

The processors cancelled some tomato orders last year and Evans held out the threat of more cuts.

“The current uncertainty creates difficult choices for making long-term capital and strategic choices for processors,” he said.

Jim Dickmeyer, another speaker at the convention, confirmed the upheaval that could face agriculture and other sectors because of the trade war threatened by new U.S. president Donald Trump.

“I can guarantee one certainty, everything is uncertain,” said Dickmeyer, the former head of the U.S. consulate in Toronto.

During the past year, processors have been pushing for an end to the collective bargaining powers of the London-based Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers’ Association.

The processors’ association has accused the growers’ association of bad faith bargaining and operating as a cartel.

Processors had the backing of the Ontario Farm Products’ Marketing Commission, the provincial agency that oversees the province’s agricultural marketing boards.

Last year, the commission announced plans to remove the collective bargaining powers of the board in favour of a free market system.

In August, Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal intervened and ordered more consultation before any regulations were changed.

In an interview, Dobbelaar said it’s an issue that ultimately will have to be decided by the provincial government.

hdaniszewski@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HankatLFPress