NDP proposes agriculture marketing fee changes
Province: Proposed law would make agricultural fees non-refundable
Wednesday, Apr 19, 2017 10:58 am
Alberta agriculture commissions
•Alberta Beef Producers
•Alberta Beekeepers Commission
•Alberta Canola Producers Commission
•Alberta Elk Commission
•Alberta Lamb Producers
•Alberta Oat Growers Commission
•Alberta Peace Region Forage Seed Commission
•Alberta Pork Producers Development Commission
•Alberta Pulse Growers Commission
•Alberta Wheat Commission
•Alfalfa Seed Commission
•Potato Growers of Alberta
Alberta beef ranchers and feedlot operators may have no choice but to pay fees to the Alberta Beef Producers under proposed provincial legislation that would reverse a 2009 decision allowing them to ask for their fees back.
Thirteen agricultural commissions across the Province collect fees from producers when they sell their products. The fees are then used for marketing, finding new markets and research.
The Alberta Beef Producers collects $2 per head of cattle sold. They also collect a non-refundable $1-per-head fee on behalf of the National Beef Producers Association.
The NDP government introduced Bill 9 on April 11. If passed, the bill will allow organizations or producers to ask for the fees to be made non-refundable.
In 2009 the Ed Stelmach government made the fees, known as service charges or check-offs, refundable. Prior to the change, the Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Lamb Producers, Potato Growers of Alberta and Alberta Pork Producers had non-refundable fees.
Alberta Beef Producers, has lost $12 million in revenue for refunded service charges between 2009 and 2015 and spokesperson Katelyn Laverdure said that is 35 per cent of their budget.
In 2016, the organization gave 817 refunds worth $2.3 million, leaving them a $10 million budget to work with.
Laverdure said the less money they receive from cattle producers, the less they can access in matching government grants. She said the prospect of getting all of the check-offs from producers is encouraging.
“This is very good news for us,” she said, adding they will be working with other industry associations to reach out to producers and feedlot operators to get their input on refundable versus non-refundable service charges.
If the bill is approved, producers or organizations would have to request a plebiscite and the change would have to be voted in by council members.
Cam Ostercamp is a Blackie-area cow-calf operator and said he wants the fees to the Alberta Beef Producers to remain refundable.
He said the marketing fees aren’t a big financial concern for most ranchers like him. Ostercamp estimates the average cow-calf operation will pay around $600 to Alberta Beef Producers annually.
“It’s never going to be a make or break situation,” he said.
However, Ostercamp doesn’t want to see the check-offs become mandatory.
“If they are non-refundable there is no accountability,” he said. “If the fees are refundable they may pay more attention to the rank and file producers. Non-refundable check-offs allow them to run the store however they want.”
Ostercamp said he questions the usefulness of the Alberta Beef Producers, but said he has seen a change since the fees were made refundable.
“If they withered and left tomorrow, I wouldn’t be too concerned,” he said. “They are not much help to the average cow-calf guy.”
Ostercamp said feedlots are mainly the ones asking for a refund from Alberta Beef Producers. A feedlot that processes 20,000 head of cattle two times a year will pay around $150,000 to the Alberta Beef Producers every year.
“The guys it is super important to is the feedlot operators,” he said.
The Alberta Barley commission has always had refundable fees for its producers and officials with the group said they will not be seeking to have that changed if Bill 9 passes.
Alberta Barley chairman Jason Lenz said they refund around five per cent of the check-offs back to barley producers.
“That is about $100,000,” Lenz said.
He said they collect $2.3 million in levies annually that is mainly used for barley variety development and disease and plant health research.
Lenz said the crop associations have always had the option for producers to request a refund and he believes it will stay that way.
Brian Sewell is a crop farmer who lives in High River and has crops in the Blackie area and is an area director for Alberta Barley.
He said about 30 per cent of his crops are barley. He became a director because on Alberta Barley because he believes they are doing a good job and it allows him to stay on the forefront of industry developments.
“We feel like we are doing a pretty good job opening new market access and variety of development due to the low number of refunds,” Sewell said.
Bill 9 is not expected to receive final reading until the spring sitting of legislature, which ends June. 1.