Gordon Bacon, who leaves the organization at the end of March, is recognized for his ‘unique’ vision for the industry
Pulse Canada’s world headquarters consisted of a desk when Gord Bacon became the inaugural chief executive officer of the organization in 1997.
“True story — on my first day I bought a chair and a filing cabinet,” he said.
“I went to a used furniture store, by the way.”
Bacon, who grew up on a farm near Ogema, Sask., came to the job from the Canadian Wheat Board, where he was working as the head of market development.
He was the sole employee of the fledgling commodity group. His annual budget was $420,000.
When he steps down on March 31 he leaves behind an organization with 15 staff and a budget of $6.3 million.
A few years into the new job he was tasked with creating a strategic plan for the organization. He based that plan off a Canadian Agriculture Research Council report released in the mid-1990s.
The report concluded that Canada was going to have a tough time competing on a cost basis in international crop markets and needed to differentiate itself by focusing on health, nutrition and environmental sustainability.
“At the time, in commodity trading, who talked about health and nutrition?” said Bacon.
“The answer is nobody.”
It was a radical concept and one that was soon challenged by Pulse Canada’s board of directors.
They held an in-camera meeting where they were contemplating cutting the health, nutrition and environmental focus from the organization’s work plan.
Bacon burst into that meeting and delivered an ultimatum.
“I said, ‘if you cut it out of the work plan, you can find a new CEO as well because I believe passionately that that’s important.’”
His intrusion was met with stunned silence. It wasn’t until the next morning that he found out the board decided to roll the dice and back his plan.
Promoting the health, nutrition and environmental sustainability aspects of pulses remains a key focus for the organization more than two decades later.
Lee Moats, a farmer from Riceton, Sask., and former Pulse Canada chair, said that kind of vision sets Bacon apart from other farm leaders.
He possesses the rare combination of a knack for figuring out where to lead the sector so it can prosper and the managerial chops to carry through with that vision.
“That is really unique,” said Moats.
Many dreamers can get lost floating around in the blue sky.
“I’ve only seen a few people who were able to kind of have one foot on the ground and one foot out in front all the time and Gordon sure exemplifies that,” he said.
“It’s not always comfortable being out in front and Gordon has shown amazing resilience at being willing to put his ideas out there.”
He pushed for diversification long before the Indian market collapsed, advocated for pulse fractionation and plant-based foods before the Beyond Meat craze and espoused the environmental benefits of pulses prior to sustainability becoming agriculture’s latest buzzword.
Bacon’s reign as head of Pulse Canada has not been free of controversy.
In 2015, a couple of former chairs of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) and a University of Saskatchewan crop breeder criticized the national organization for its board structure.
They said SPG was under-represented on the Pulse Canada board, considering how much funding it provides to the organization. They also wanted the head office relocated to Saskatoon from Winnipeg to increase accountability.
In response, the Pulse Canada board was expanded to nine members with the two additional spots going to Saskatchewan. But there was no relocation of the head office.
In 2019, another former SPG director accused Bacon of conflict of interest for being CEO of Pulse Canada and the Canadian Special Crops Association. He was fiercely defended by the chairs of both organizations.
Moats said Bacon has been a terrific international ambassador for Canada’s pulse sector and had the foresight to work in co-operation with “competitors” on mutually beneficial projects.
He was a champion of and one of the main driving forces behind the International Year of Pulses 2016.
Bacon also forged alliances with other commodity groups on issues like rail transportation, helping create a coalition of shippers to provide unified input on the Transportation Modernization Act.
Bacon said issues like transportation, yields and market access are important and the natural temptation for commodity groups is to spend the entire budget on things that have immediate, tangible returns.
But he has learned that the money is often better spent finding solutions to long-term constraints and exploring opportunities for tomorrow.
That message was drilled into him by the trade early in his tenure at Pulse Canada.
“They said, ‘you’re not going to make any contribution to how I do my business. I know my business,’” said Bacon.
As he leaves the organization and heads into retirement his eyes are still focused on the horizon.
He believes the next “watershed moment” for agriculture is going to be the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit in September.
That summit is going to result in an agricultural action plan for change and Canadian farmers would be well-advised to get on board and help shape that plan, said Bacon.