Open book vital for farmers’ super group

A super group for crop farmers called the Grain Growers of Ontario is in the offing.

After one false start a couple of years ago, public discussions about the proposed merger between the province's 29,000 corn, soybeans and wheat farmers are expected to proceed this month without much incident.

Officials from the three groups are travelling across Ontario, holding seven information meetings and staffing a booth at this week's Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, to make sure farmers are tuned in.

It's the latest effort at unity by the farm groups, which first signed a memorandum of understanding four years ago to pursue a joint organization. Broadly, they thought it would give them more political clout, especially when they're trying to make their voices heard over the roar of huge grain growers in western Canada.

Practically, they hoped it would save them a lot in administrative costs.

And when they all came together under one roof at the Ontario AgriCentre, setting up headquarters there, it seemed like a done deal.

But last year, just when the groups were getting close to finalizing the deal, the Ontario Soybean Growers opted out. Board officials said it wasn't the right package for their members.

Farmers, however, weren't happy with the about face. Several board members who supported the merger's dissolution were not re-elected. In December, more than 100 soybean farmers showed up at the oilseed organization's committee meetings in London and made it clear they were unhappy with the decision to withdraw from the process.

They asked the soybean board to reconsider resuming negotiations with corn and wheat producers. It did, and in April, the chairs of the three organizations signed an updated agreement to proceed.

Now, they need a democratic endorsement from crop farmers to create the single organization. An entity called the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission is stickhandling the mail-in vote, which, if successful, will officially create the new organization.

Things have changed a lot in the four years farmers have been deliberating. Their lobby mode has switched from panic to moderate, as prices for crops are way, way up. But so is the public's interest in what's happening with food costs. Many people think farmers are raking in bags of cash thanks to ethanol, selling their corn for a fuel feedstock instead of feeding their harvests to people.

That's not true. The price of oil has sent everything askew, including commodity prices, and despite greater farm income, expenses have ballooned, especially for fertilizer, fuel and transportation. Some farmers are finding it almost as tough to make a living now as they were before.

And that's what the Grain Growers of Ontario needs to explain. Public support means everything, and these farmers need to join the likes of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and others to tell consumers their story.

I doubt if the public will sympathize with farmers saying they're going broke when food prices are rising, although it could provoke a lot of discussion about exactly why agriculture claims it's on the rack.

On its website,, the prospective group notes its interest in creating a business atmosphere that is more "efficient, effective and advantageous . . . to producer members for their betterment."

I suggest they add ". . . and to consumers' understanding of grain farmers' issues."

I believe most grain farmers would agree that a proactive, sustained public education initiative is vital for the new organization's success. Consumers are eager to support farmers through emerging movements such as local food campaigns.

Now's the time for farmers to give them reasons to believe.

About The Author

Urban Cowboy

Raising awareness and promoting dialogue about current food and agriculture issues.


Headshot of Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts is a faculty member in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications program at the University of Illinois. As an agricultural journalist, he is the past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and a lifetime achievement award recipient from the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation. His programs and research papers have been recognized nationally and internationally through awards from the Journal of Applied Communications, the National Agri-Marketing Association, the Association for Communications Excellence, and others.