Processing vegetable growers elections contentious

Some growers at a district meeting of the organization walked out, but returned in time to vote

Ontario’s processing vegetable growers are pushing back against the provincial government’s takeover of their association’s board of directors in 2016.

Resolutions coming to the annual meeting of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG) include ones calling for the replacement of the members of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission and for an investigation into cancellation of delivery contracts for an OPVG board member’s farm.

Why it matters: The recent elections show that there’s still discord among growers relating to the way their elected board was treated by the province.

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At the recent District 2 meeting in Strathroy, grower Eric Allaer, an appointed board member for the past year, who was nominated by appointed chair of the board Suzanne Van Bommell, failed to be elected, and indeed was not elected as one of the 10 members of the district committee.

Carl Merrick, a Strathroy area grower of green peas, sweet corn and snap peas, was elected as the new provincial board member for the district.

The board’s operations were run by a trustee, Elmer Buchanan, after the board and its general manager were dismissed by the Ontario agriculture minister, when contracts could not be reached for the growing of processing tomatoes. Last year, half of the board was appointed and half elected. This year, all of the board was elected by growers, with the chair of the board continuing to be appointed by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission.

Leamington-area grower David Epp was the subject of two resolutions from District 1, affirming members’ support of Epp’s remaining on the board and calling for the board to investigate why Lycoland Farm, which Epp owns with his brother and nephew, has been given its one-year notice by Highbury Canco and Bonduelle for cancellation of its production contracts.

The restructuring of the regulations around processing vegetable marketing included a provision, in Regulation 440, whereby either party could cancel a contract.

Letters were sent to Lycoland Farm by Rob Anderson, vice-president of operations for Bonduelle on Nov. 15 and by Sam Diaz, CEO of Highbury Cano on Nov. 13 that informed them that their contracts to supply snap peas to Bonduelle and processing tomatoes to Highbury Canco would not be continued after the 2019 growing season. Anderson sits on the Farm Products Marketing Commission, but is required to recuse himself from processing vegetable discussions.

The Epps have grown processing tomatoes for 65 years. The Epps have no other processing contracts with anyone other than Highbury and Bonduelle, so the effect of the contract cancellation will be to remove David Epp’s ability to qualify for the board of directors.

David Epp has a full time job with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, along with being involved in his family farm. He is also the Conservative Party candidate for Chatham-Kent-Leamington for the 2019 federal election.

Epp said he has been the subject of six allegations of misconduct at the board of directors of the OPVG, although in each case the board of directors have cleared him. In an interview Epp said he couldn’t discuss the nature of the attempts to sanction him, as they were part of confidential board discussions.

“I’ve had involvement with eight different organizations over 30 years. I have never experienced a year of governance like this past year,” he said.

Epp said the cancellation has increased stress, especially on his brother and nephew who do most of the active farming at Lycoland Farm.

He said the reasons the OPVG and similar farm boards were formed decades ago remain today.

“We need orderly marketing for the market to operate efficiently,” he said.

Epp was on the OPVG board from 1999 to 2009. He was on the board of directors of Agricorp from 2007 to 2014 and then was re-elected to the OPVG board in 2017.

At the District 2 OPVG meeting growers scrutinized every move of the appointed chair of the board and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission (OFPMC) representatives. The processes of the operation of the grower organization have changed. Board members are elected from farmers at the district meetings, but growers pushed back when Farm Products Marketing Commission analyst John Fitzgerald moved to run the grower elections. The OFPMC regularly runs elections for farmer organizations.

In the past, the OPVG’s general manager has run district elections. The growers eventually settled on an independent observer at the meeting to run the elections.

Some growers also walked out of the meeting at one point before the election, but most returned in time to vote.

Outside of the board room and in the field, it was a good year, with record yields and close to record yields for several crops managed by the board, and an increase in acres planted to processing tomatoes.

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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