News

Farmers contemplate quitting

By Debora Van Brenk, The London Free Press

(File photo)

(File photo)

Southwestern Ontario pea, pickle, tomato and sweet-corn growers are mobilizing to answer a provincial plan that would eliminate their collective voice when negotiating with vegetable processors.

Several — including Arpad Pasztor of the Norfolk area — say they might not grow vegetables at all, rather than have to deal independently with different buyers.

“We’re right in the middle of harvest. We’re doing 18-hour days right now and who has time to send a letter?” said Pasztor, who heads Hemlock Lakeview Farms and is district chairperson for the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers Association. He questions the timing of a review of the association’s function.

He has a contract to grow and hand-pick more than 500 tonnes of cucumbers for pickling this year — a contract for price, quantity, quality, delivery and payment time negotiated through the association.

The Farm Product Marketing Commission has proposed eliminating the association’s bargaining authority. Farmers have until Aug. 12 to comment.

It’s not a large association — its farmers are based mostly in Southwestern Ontario, growing 14 different vegetables that are flash-frozen, canned or pickled for major processors in Ontario and the U.S. — but its crops are worth about $100 million a year.

Pasztor said he believes the province is trying to justify the change using the false argument that it will generate more farm-related jobs. But, he said, the industry is already competitive and it will cost jobs. Many people who bought small farms specifically to grow processing vegetables will simply turn the land to corn or soybeans.

“There are a lot of growers, and I’m one of them, who say if this goes through, I’m not going to grow cucumbers,” Pasztor said.

The association’s Kent-Essex district met this week to map out a strategy; the Norfolk-Niagara district was to meet Friday.

“It’s such a bad process when you tell growers their future livelihood is at stake and you’ve got 45 days to make a comment,” said John Mumford, general manager of the London-based association.

He said the association will send its comments after meeting with the marketing commission Aug. 3.

He said the association has negotiated 75 processing deals in the last three years, only one of which went to arbitration, and the system works well.

“We’re chasing ghosts here,” Mumford said. “We don’t really know what’s prompting the commission to do this.”