Processing veg growers align with marketing act changes

The subjects of policy and structural change dominated the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG) first virtual annual general meeting.

The March 30 session began with a general message of support from provincial agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman, in which he highlighted the provincial government’s plan to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for farm and food sector workers.

Why it matters: OPVG has seen several years of turmoil as its ability to negotiate on behalf of producers has been constrained.

A message of support was delivered by Amy Cronin, chair of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, the government arm that regulates farm marketing organizations. Her address included congratulations to OPVG’s board and membership for quickly and effectively adapting to tough circumstances in 2020, as well as thus far into 2021.

An updated structure

Cronin also emphasized the importance of forging new opportunities for Ontario processing vegetables by establishing stronger partnerships across the value chain. This is something she believes the OPVG board has made progress towards, also commending them for making important changes to governance and governance policy in an effort to foster “accountability and transparency.”

“Your board’s work on a new multi-year strategic plan will be crucial,” says Cronin, later encouraging the implementation of “a collaborative and inclusive” plan to account for the diversity of perspectives within the processing vegetable value chain.

Amendments to sections 440 and 441 of the Farm Products Marketing Act in 2019 drove changes to OPVG governance, operational, and other policies. One such change was the implementation of a new electronic voting process designed to promote greater participation by members.

According to Keith Robbins, general manager for OPVG, two years of using the system has not brought more widespread participation – indeed, numbers have actually dropped slightly. But Robbins says it still provides an effective way of documenting the governance process, and plans on fine-tuning the system when engaging the Farm Products Marketing Commission in the future.

Other changes involved updating bylaws and organizational minutia to reflect the updated regulations.

Unified lobbying

Dave Hope, chair for OPVG, says the relationship-building actions taken thus far have been driven, in part, by the need to more effectively engage the federal and provincial government on key policies and issues – notably labour and its associated pandemic-induced complications.

“Labour issues are exceedingly complicated as [growers] also have local departments of health that complicate matters,” says Hope.

More specifically, Robbins says OPVG has outsourced the handling of labour-related lobbying – as well as pesticide and wider regulatory policy lobbying – to the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

“They represent so many [parts of the sector], it just gives us that further reach on lobbying activities,” says Robbins.

“We need to make sure we have our messages coordinated.”

A “fairly productive” year

Financially, Hope reported a balanced budget. That budget included a reduction in fees placed on tomatoes and carrots, as well as continued investments in research projects. Hope says they are actively looking for financial contributions to research initiatives from other groups as well.

OPVG also extended “eat local” promotions to the Windsor area, and established a newsletter to better communicate research initiatives and other organizational updates to members.

Overall, Hope described 2020 as a “fairly productive year.” For 2021, and with regulatory adherence behind them, Robbins says the organization and its membership are determining the next five year strategic and business plans.