Ontario government: It has turfed farmers on a board that negotiates prices with food processors amid stalled talks on a key Southwestern Ontario crop
The Ontario government has sacked the farmers on a board that negotiates vegetable prices with food processors, replacing them with a former politician, amid talks on the price of this year’s tomato crop.
“I’m still reeling from the shock of this,” Tom Keller, former vice-chair of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers board, said Friday.
“It’s made it a very unstable situation for growers,” the Leamington farmer said.
Based largely in Southwestern Ontario, the processing tomato industry relies on growers in Essex County and Chatham-Kent.
The members of the growers’ board are elected.
Elmer Buchanan, a former NDP agriculture minister, is now in charge of negotiating 2017 contracts with processors, appointed by the Liberal government’s agriculture minister.
The move comes after the province’s vegetable-processing companies hit farmers in December with a wave of unprecedented attacks, accusing them of everything from bargaining in bad faith to lying.
Processors have also demanded an end to the negotiating powers of the growers’ board. Under the umbrella of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Processors Association, processors announced they would be cutting contracts to buy Ontario produce, resulting in millions of dollars in lost production.
Processors called the London-based growers group, a marketing board elected by farmers, a “cartel.”
“Obviously, there’s been stuff going on behind the scenes,” said Keller. “They couldn’t negotiate with us.”
Leal could not be reached for comment Friday.
A meeting of tomato growers has been set for Monday in Chatham, Keller said.
“The growers have to figure out what they want to do from here,” he said.
The growers still have a five-year memorandum of understanding with processors, Keller added.
“It comes down to price. They don’t want to say that,” Keller said. “The farmers are pretty upset.”
“It’s a political appointment,” he said of Leal tasking Buchanan to take over the negotiations.
Keller and his colleagues were informed by the deputy minister they were fired. Talks were at an impasse, Leal said, and this year’s tomato crop was at risk, which is why he stepped in.
A new board is set to be elected in the fall.