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Farm think-tank tapped out as George Morris Centre folds

Net assets to be gifted to Guelph's OAC

Home to ag industry researchers and analysts including Al Mussell (shown here in 2010), Kevin Grier and Claudia Schmidt, the George Morris Centre is now expected to wind down its operations later this year. (Country Guide photo by Olivia Brown Photographic)

Facing “challenging” financial straits, one of Canada’s best-known agriculture and agri-food research organizations has announced plans to close later this year.

The board of the George Morris Centre on Thursday announced it plans to dissolve the Guelph-based organization, and transfer its net assets back to the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC).

The centre said those assets are to be gifted to OAC as per the wishes of its founder and original endower, farmer and rancher George Morris.

Until the centre closes, its lease having expired at the end of March, “a transition team is in place to ensure the continued integrity of (the centre’s) obligations.”

Morris, a prominent cattle producer and cash-crop farmer at Merlin, Ont. and an inductee in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, founded the think-tank in 1990, providing half his estate to fund it before his death in 1999.

The centre’s current chairman, Bob Funk, recounted in Thursday’s release that Morris had envisioned the centre as supporting — in Morris’ words — “free thought, free speech and non-compromised analysis to serve the Canadian agri-food sector, thus enabling those involved to more effectively compete in the global marketplace.”

The centre today offers research, consulting and “custom education” to the private sector as well as to government, producer groups and organizations with commercial interest in agriculture, food and related policies.

“We are proud of the reputation and the provocative discussion that has been created over the years by a succession of dedicated GMC team members,” Funk said Thursday.

The centre, which operated from 1990 through 1998 as a department of the University of Guelph, registered as a non-profit charitable corporation in 1998.

“In returning to the University of Guelph, the vision of the centre is going home, as it was domiciled with OAC for its first 10 years,” the centre said Thursday.

“Research needs”

Fulfilling said vision has been an expensive task for the centre in recent years. In its fiscal year ending April 30, 2013, centre revenue from operations and a handful of donations totalled $1.529 million, down from $1.652 million in 2012.

Costs exceeded revenues by $567,727, compared to $328,437 in the year-earlier period, the centre said in its report.

Fiscal 2012-13 was “again a challenging year for the centre, as competitors made themselves felt and the industry defined its research needs.”

Steps were taken, the centre said, “in order to refocus the limited resources of the centre on its mission, which is to provoke informed dialogue on policies and issues that foster excellence in the Canadian agri-food sector.”

The centre in fiscal 2012-13 divested its management education programs and spun off its Value Chain Management Centre as an independent entity under director Martin Gooch.

The spinoff was expected to provide “more focused service to value chain clients” and allow for “invigorated, focused resources on agricultural economics” for the Morris centre.

The Morris centre had said it was also seeking “new partnerships with other agri-food consulting firms,” so as to strengthen its capacity to “meet and satisfy changing client demands in a more competitive marketplace.” — Network



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