Goat group continues to look for savings

The loss of a producer vote to create a goat checkoff last year continues to have effects

There’s no way around it for the Ontario Goat (OG) board of directors: A round of severe belt-tightening looms.

Having endured the defeat of its proposal for a mandatory goat milk check-off during a Producer Expression of Opinion vote last year, the nine-member board must now explore how to continue its work under a significantly decreased revenue regime.

Why it matters: Goat producers, without stable funding for an organization, won’t have as much representation in initiatives such as the new national code of practice on goat care and welfare.

“We have very minimal board expenses,” explained OG Executive Director Jennifer Haley, in delivering the organization’s 2017 financial report during OG’s annual meeting on March 21 in Woodstock. Haley described the board as “truly volunteer,” taking no per diem payments and charging no mileage or expenses for attending meetings.

But this frugality only goes so far when the failure to convince a majority of dairy goat producers to support the mandatory check-off means the organization must move from its former voluntary dairy check-off of half a cent per litre, to a still-being-implemented flat-rate, $300 voluntary membership fee.

The check-off proposal, taken to a vote by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission in February, 2017, did not include meat or fibre goat producers – who also have representation at Ontario Goat. Now the hope is that enough members from all three producer groups can be signed up to keep the organization afloat.

“If we can secure the amount (of membership sign-up) that we’re hoping for, we should have about 50 per cent of what we were getting with the voluntary (dairy) check-off,” explained chair of the OG board of directors, Norwich-area milk producer Anton Slingerland.

Anton Slingerland says he believes the goat sector continues to have lots of potential despite a serious drop in goat milk prices in 2017.
photo: Stew Slater

The financial repercussions are compounded by the fact that, without a check-off regime in place, the organization now has a decreased capacity to leverage government funding.

“There are a lot of opportunities, but there are also a lot of lost opportunities because we’re not able to harness resources, not able to harness financing,” Haley commented in her year-end executive director’s report.

The year 2017 had begun with a series of consultation sessions, Haley reminded those attending the meeting, seeking information about areas of focus prioritized by producers as the  organization approached government and/or secured stable funding through the Expression of Opinion vote. Those sessions highlighted a desire for the industry to speak with one voice.

“There’s kind of a dichotomy, I guess, from what everybody says in the report (from the consultation sessions) versus what people do when we actually get down to making that happen,” the executive director commented, making clear her frustration with the vote’s outcome.

What will be affected by the financial challenges? Haley didn’t shy away from saying how she thought producers and the organization might be affected.

An arrangement with Ontario Veal for shared office space and resources, in place now for nine years, could be on the line. “It’s quite a good deal for the goat industry, but it’s something that the board is going to have to examine going forward,” Haley warned.

OG also lost its potential, she suggested, to have influence around the table as a national Code of Practice for animal welfare is updated for goat production.

“My concern for you, as goat producers, is that it will be a processor-driven code.” Not only that, she added, but organizations like consumer groups and animal rights groups could get more of a say than farmers.

“They just finished the veal Code of Practice review, and we know the kind of investment and resources that takes,” Haley said. “It’s a significant amount of money, and it’s significantly more than what’s in (OG’s) budget over the next two-and-a-half to three years.”

Absent from Haley’s podium comments, compared to when an earlier Expression of Opinion vote was rejected by OG members back in 2012, were speculations about the organization’s demise. But speaking after her remarks,, the executive director admitted she once again fears for Ontario Goat’s future.

“The crystal ball is pretty hard to read right now,” she commented.

Slingerland, though, offered a degree of optimism in his address to AGM attendees. He commented that, as a result of a milk pricing collapse experienced in 2017, changes were made on many farms that will serve to strengthen those operations in the long term.

“I believe the industry is still viable and there’s still growth,” the OG board chair said. “It’s just at a slower rate.”

OG’s nine-member board of directors, including four new members elected from a slate of five nominees at the March 21 AGM, is expected to have its first meeting by the end of April.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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