The Many Unsuccessful Attempts to form an Ontario Grain Corn Marketing Board

2021-01-22-0001

Typical Ontario corn crib, circa 1975

This column was published originally in 2005 in the Ontario Farmer and is reproduced here with permission, for the interest and convenience of those interested in Ontario corn history.

Among the mostly forgotten chapters of Ontario corn history are many unsuccessful attempts to form an Ontario grain corn marketing board.  The following description of these efforts is far from complete, but the best I could manage using various written records – often sketchy – and the living memories of individuals involved in the corn industry more than a half century ago.

The Ontario Corn Growers’ Association (OCGA) described in an earlier column was born in Essex County in 1908, in part because of a desire to promote the sale of seed of locally grown open-pollinated varieties, and died within a year or two after the formation of the Ontario Seed Corn Growers’ Marketing Board (OSCGMB) in 1940.  The latter was created to represent growers of hybrid corn seed.  Many of the farmers who were active in OCGA during the late 1930s became initial directors of the OSCGMB. The early history of the OSCGMB is described in Leonard Pegg’s “Pulling Tassels: A history of seed corn in Ontario,” published in 1988.

There was a parallel effort to create a marketing board for commercial grain corn. I know relatively little about the Essex-Kent Corn Producers’ Cooperative Association created in 1940 with Charles O’Brien of Roseland as president.  However, a file in the Archives of Ontario describes how this organization promoted a proposed “Ontario Corn Growers’ Marketing Scheme.” The Essex-Kent cooperative group was created apparently to act as a central selling agency for marketing all commercial grain corn in southwestern Ontario. The group sought single-desk selling and compulsory government grading of all corn. There was major concern over low prices (40 cents/bushel), large harvest-time fluctuations in price, and a view that these were caused by inadequate competition. However, there is no record of a producer vote or widespread support.

Minutes of the Ontario Corn Committee (OCC, more detail here) show that representatives of the Essex-Kent cooperative group met with it in 1943 and 1947, mainly to discuss the importation of US seed corn and seed quality. Darrel Jubenville of Tilbury was a key spokesperson at these meetings.

The Ontario Archives also contain a proposal in 1946 by a group called the Commercial Corn Growers of Ontario to create “Corn Negotiating Committee” which would have the powers to negotiate minimum prices, grade standards, and associated shelling, elevation and handling fees with corn dealers and processors. The proposed membership of this Committee is similar to that of the earlier Essex-Kent cooperative association though the 1946 listing also includes representatives from Lambton, Middlesex, Norfolk, Elgin and Waterloo counties.  The Archives contain copies of a ballot and draft letter to be sent to up to 7000 growers in April 1946. However, I can find no evidence that this mailing happened or that any vote occurred.

Darrel Jubenville and a few other farmers made group representations at various meetings of the OCC from 1948 through 1951.  While they refer to the “association” which they represent, this association is not named in the OCC minutes.

More intriguing are Archive files from 1962 that include a March 6 letter from the secretary of the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Board to Deputy Minister Everett Biggs detailing procedures for a “recent Corn Vote.” The vote supposedly occurred between January 15 and 30 on the question: “Are you in favour of the proposed plan to be known as The Ontario Corn Producers’ Marketing Plan?” The Plan was to “1) provide a voice for growers, 2) develop markets and new uses for corn, and 3) promote corn for Ontario and Canada and ward off the inroads made by imports.” The vote was apparently championed by the Commercial Corn Growers Association led by Armould Mulcaster of Essex, with the support of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, but was opposed by “The Five County Grain Corn Committee” led by Darrel Jubenville.

I can find no record of results of this vote or any indication other than the letter to Biggs that it even occurred. Certainly, no marketing board structure was created as a result.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, agitation arose again among corn farmers for a marketing board to address low corn prices, then near $1/bushel. I recall meeting Jim McGuigan of Cedar Springs, then a director of the Kent and Ontario Federations of Agriculture and later the Member of Provincial Parliament for Kent-Essex.  He told me of unsuccessful efforts by himself and many others to generate the support needed for a marketing board.  “They’ll support marketing boards for nearly every other farm commodity,” said Jim in frustration, “but not for grain corn.”

However, because of producer discontent, Bill Stewart, the Ontario Minister of Agriculture and Food, called for a meeting of corn industry representatives to be held at the Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology in September 1971. I was privileged to be present. (Darrel Jubenville and Mac Best from Fingal were also there representing the Canadian Commercial Corn Growers Association – the last written reference I’ve found to that organization.)

Delegates at the Ridgetown meeting recommended that an Ontario Corn Council be formed. The Ontario Grain Corn Council (OGCC) was officially created by Minister Stewart in December 1971 with Ken Patterson of Middlesex County serving as chairman, and eleven other appointed members. Ken served as chairman until 1986 and during this time the council effected a number of improvements including reduced rail shipping rates and tax incentives for new grain storage.  The council actively promoted improved corn quality and the increased industrial processing of Ontario corn.  It organized several export trade missions and helped create a Winnipeg Board of Trade futures market for grain corn with Montreal being the “delivery point.” (This market ended after about two years because of a lack of business.) Most importantly, the council portrayed corn as a major Canadian crop, and not just a regional grain grown mainly for on-farm feeding – the previous image. The council continued until about 1990 when the Ontario government ended its funding.

Creation of the OGCC did not end the pressure for a producer organization. Indeed, a group called the Corn Producers’ Investigating Committee from Kent County (chaired by Stuart Shaw but with Darrel Jubenville also present) met with the OGCC and representatives of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) in April 1972 seeking an “Ontario Corn Industry Act” and an associated board to provide much greater regulatory control over marketing and pricing.  This proposal received no support from the council nor Minister Stewart.  Dramatic increases in corn prices beginning in late 1972 were probably why pressure for a marketing board ended at that time.

Finally, in 1979, some corn growers began to work on plans for a new producer organization.  The Ontario Corn Producers’ Association (OCPA) was founded in December 1982.  Passage of the Ontario Grain Corn Marketing Act in 1984 gave OCPA checkoff collection powers, and it persisted until 2010 – then becoming part of the amalgamated group, the Grain Farmers of Ontario. OCPA was created without a producer vote, but with benefit of a refundable checkoff on producer grain corn sales to commercial buyers. It had no regulatory power over any aspect of marketing, only the power of lobbying and rational advice to governments. A more detailed column on the history of the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association will follow.

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