Ontario processing vegetable growers are “dismayed” at the lack of consultation from the provincial government about its intent to overhaul the regulated marketing system. Agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman surprised the sector with an open letter on April 16, 2019 signalling a new mandate for “direct contracting between processors and tomato growers, and to look at options for other processing vegetables” in advance of 2020 crop negotiations.
There are 343 growers who produce a variety of processing vegetables for a farmgate value of just under $100 million. They include: tomatoes, onions, sweet corn, carrots, cucumbers, green, wax and lima beans, green peas, squash and pumpkins. Tomato processing comprises about half of the total. The minister cites 16 facilities in the province.
Hardeman wrote: “Despite a growing market, Ontario production growth has been flat, exports of Ontario tomato products have declined to a third of what they were 10 years ago, imports have increased dramatically, the sector has seen a lack of processing investment, and there has been an exit of key processors. In my consultations with growers and processors, everyone agrees that we need to reverse these trends.”
The Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission has been given a mandate to consult with the grower community.
The announcement is perplexing to Dave Hope, the government-appointed chair of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG). He took up the position as recently as January 31, 2019.
“The organization is unable to make further comments on the province’s announcement until more information becomes available,” says Hope. “Our board remains committed to representing the views of our grower members and helping them understand how these changes have the potential to affect their farm businesses.”
In an interview with The Grower, Hope said it was not valuable to speculate until the draft regulations are published. A comment period is expected. Hope anticipates that regulations would need to be in place by the end of the 2019 calendar year in order for growers to make planting decisions for 2020.
Sources: OMAFRA April 16, 2019 open letter from Ernie Hardeman/Ontario Processing Vegetable April 17, 2019 news release