Value chain buy-in matters, but the future of ag policy needs farmers' voices


When I first became involved with the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association (SCGA), I did so because wanted to know what the hell was going on. I, like most of you I’m sure, was pretty tired of the state of things and wondered who was running the show. The first thing I found out was that, in fact, everyone was not an idiot. Maybe, the idiot, so to speak, was the person I saw every morning when I was shaving. Serving on the board was a very humbling experience, but at the same time very rewarding.

The SCGA did some tremendous things before I was ever involved in it, of course. Canola was a crop which needed significant nurturing in its infancy and farmers responded to the challenge. They partnered with scientists, they cooperated with the value chain, and they championed an industry. It was their industry, after all.

When canola started to become a larger crop and more established, there was a push to put it under the Canadian Wheat Board. It was a tremendously divisive issue and farmers were very passionate on both sides of the debate. The SCGA led the fight on the “No” side, and, by a very narrow margin, their side prevailed and farmers retained the right to sell their canola when they chose and pay their bills unrestricted by quotas or initial and final payments months apart.

One of the visions that the SCGA had was to establish a commission so that participation would be more universal, research would be more organized, and funding for things like market development would be more sustainable. So, the Saskatchewan Canola Development Board (SaskCanola) was created, a check-off was initiated, and the SCGA was eventually tucked into the new organization.

Deservedly, many of the people who were in the SCGA and established the canola industry are in the Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame, and several members of different farm groups from across Western Canada are in the Canadian Agriculture hall of fame.

There is a well known story that when one new board member showed up for his first SCGA meeting he found out that he and the other board members would be signing cheques for $1500 out of their own pockets to pay the organization’s expenses. How’s that for a per diem?

My point is, many farmers sacrificed a great deal to make sure the farm voice was heard. They had kids, they had farms to run, they had local communities that could use their support, just like you do now. But just imagine where you would be if they had not championed the industry and this crop.

I do not think it matters what board you run for, what industry you choose to support, or where you make your voice heard, but rest assured line companies, crop science companies, and academics, to name a few, are more than willing to lead the team. Remember the view from the backseat is the worst view, and you have no choice about about your destination.

I recently interviewed Doyle Wiebe, chair of SaskCanola, about his experience in farm organizations and service boards and commissions. This is what he had to say:

It is important to the boards to have diverse membership. It is not really meant to be something you do after you retire. As Wiebe says, “There’s always a breath of fresh air from younger people coming on we recognize there’s value in some of us that are a little more grey haired as well bringing different experiences to it all, but… as each election happens there’s a new mix of personalities and skills that really add to the mix and add to the value  of the decisions that we make that are just that much better because of that variation.”

Watch the interview below, and throw your hat in the ring, no matter what it says on the front of it.

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