Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Ontario processing vegetable contract compromise reached

(Scott Bauer photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

The Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers marketing board believes it has found a compromise to an imposed regulation that would have gutted grower contract protection.

Why it matters: Farmers had contract security of two years previously, but new regulations would have taken that down to none — and processors could have dropped growers whenever they wished.

The matter was the biggest concern for farmers when the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers’ (OPVG) members met last week in London for their annual meeting.

Board chair Suzanne Van Bommel said the board has heard the concerns of growers since Regulation 440 was released last fall. The board took those concerns to the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commissions (OFPMC), which is imposing new bylaws on the organization.

OFPMC chair Jim Clark told the meeting the commission, which regulates marketing boards in the province, agrees with the change.

“I know that changes to term contracts immediately caused some concern to the industry,” he said. “I have made it clear we are open to alternative solutions.”

Van Bommel said the contract security changes in Regulation 440, the government regulation that sets out how the OPVG will be run, were a surprise.

Here’s how the regulations worked:

  • In previous regulations, a processor could terminate a grower with cause — for a food safety or production issue, for example.
  • The grower could appeal to a local board and the board would decide whether it was just cause to remove the grower.
  • If the issue was because of a business relationship problem, the processor had to give the grower two crop years’ notice that it wouldn’t renew a contract.

The new regulation said:

  • A processor could terminate without cause immediately, starting next December.

“That’s when we started to hear a great deal from growers, et cetera, and they said ‘Whoa’,” Van Bommel said.

Van Bommel said the OFPMC heard from processors that having a local grower group in charge of whether cause was just wasn’t fair. There was also a concern that it was difficult to establish cause based on the grower board guidelines. There was also concern that two years was too long to try to terminate a grower.

The vegetable growers offered a compromise that they would adjust their own regulations to make cause for grower termination more exact, and that the required notice before termination would be moved to one year.

The commission has accepted that compromise, Clark said, but despite questions from growers he couldn’t say when it would be in effect.

What’s the bottom line for growers?

Van Bommel said she expects the revised contract security language will make its way through the government process before next December — which was the original timeline for the use of the clause by processors, so growers shouldn’t be subject to the language that most concerned them.

— John Greig is a field editor for Glacier FarmMedia based at Ailsa Craig, Ont. Follow him at @jgreig on Twitter.

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