There were celebratory handshakes and hugs among staff and farmers on the steering committee after the results of the Manitoba farm group amalgamation vote were announced last week at CropConnect.
Among the crowd, standing nearby with a relieved grin on his face, was a farmer from southern Manitoba who led a public campaign to unite farm groups years before the formal process to explore the idea of merging began in 2017.
“Change is tough, and when you decide to embrace change, these are the things that can happen. I’m very excited this is the way the organizations have gone,” says Danny Penner, in the interview below.
Penner, who farms near Halbstadt, Man., is a former president of the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association, and led a grassroots movement in 2012 and 2013, urging commodity groups across the country to reorganize and consolidate to form a unified voice for farmers who grow grains, oilseeds, pulses, and special crops.
“At that time we decided to work at it for about a year, send as many letters as we could, attend as many meetings as we could, and meet with as many politicians as we could,” he explains, “But we needed the organizations to take it to the next level.”
It took a few years for the idea to gain momentum among commodity groups’ farmer directors. The first meetings to discuss the idea of forming one larger organization in Manitoba were held in the winter of 2016-17, and the idea was presented to producers at the CropConnect conference in February 2017.
A formal proposal and consultations were launched in the fall of 2017. That proposal underwent some major revisions based on farmers’ feedback in December 2018.
Along the way, two of the larger groups — Manitoba Canola Growers and the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers — decided to focus on collaborating with other groups rather than amalgamating.
Fast forward through further consultations, meetings, and webinars to last week, and farmer members of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association, the Manitoba Flax Growers Association, the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association, Winter Cereals Manitoba and the National Sunflower Association of Canada voted in favour of forming the new Manitoba Crop Alliance. Assuming regulatory approval from the provincial government, the new organization will officially be launched on August 1, 2020.
“I’m so excited producers are going to get more value out of the dollars they put into these organizations, and hopefully we’re going to see benefits going forward for producers and consumers alike,” says Penner.