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Trouble brewing between Ontario’s processors and vegetable growers

Tomatoes in turmoil


January 18, 2017
By Marg Land


Topics

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the office, not a creature was stirring – except for whoever was pumping out those press releases from the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Processors’ Association (OFVPA), headquartered in Mitchell, Ont.

Email accounts were pinging across the province Dec. 21 and 22 as the association sent out a flurry of statements attacking the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG) and threatening to cut back tomato orders for the 2017 season.

At issue? Ontario ag Minister Jeff Leal’s decision in August to stay a recommendation by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Association to remove the powers of the OPVG to negotiate prices on behalf of members. Processors want to set prices with growers directly without going through the OPVG.

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“After years of thorough review, the commission recognized that the way that vegetables are marketed in Ontario needed to change,” stated Sam Diab, president and CEO of Highbury Canco, in one of the press releases. He then went on to accuse OPVG representatives of lying and negotiating in bad faith, even criticizing grower chair Frank Dobbelaar for going moose hunting. “They delayed meetings for two weeks.”

The processor’s association also continually referred to the vegetable growers association as a “cartel,” which is defined as: “an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.”

The entire situation has left Dobbelaar “puzzled.”

“We are a bunch of farmer families elected to represent the growers in Ontario,” he told the London Free Press in an interview.

In an update to growers sent out by the OPVG in mid-December, the organization stressed that it was committed to the sustainability of the processing vegetable industry.

“This means profitability for both growers and processors,” the update stated, adding the OPVG and tomato processors negotiated a five year tomato pricing protocol covering 2016 to 2020 earlier in the year. “[This] has increased the competitive advantage of Ontario raw product and enhanced pricing stability for both growers and processors.”

It would appear the OFVPA begs to differ.

“The growers’ cartel has endangered the jobs and economic health of communities throughout southwestern Ontario,” stated Karl Evans, president of the OFVPA. “They have endangered the livelihoods of their own growers.”

He went on to describe the current negotiation system as “predatory.”

As part of their current public relations campaign, the processors have announced they will be cutting back 100,000 tons of tomatoes for processing plus informed tomato seedling growers they would not be proceeding with any orders for plants.

There has been no announcement as to where processors would be sourcing field tomatoes from instead or if they would just move away from the tomato paste business altogether.

From this vantage point, it would appear the only ones endangering jobs and livelihoods are the processors themselves. Rather than complaining about moose hunting trips and calling people liars, perhaps they should dedicate themselves to repairing their relationship with growers and working proactively toward a solution.

Can we all get along? – Rodney King