A History of the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association, 1982 – 2009

For me, this story starts at a farm meeting at Lindsay Ontario in January 1983. As a University of Guelph-based corn agronomist, I had become convinced Ontario corn farmers had major need for an effective organization to represent them. I had seen what equivalent organizations had accomplished in France, Manitoba and various US states, and wondered, why not the same for Ontario?

Marmora-area farmer Doug Brunton spoke at that farm meeting about fledgling efforts to create just that, and I soon became involved in speaking out in support of the new group at other farm meetings – usually as backup to Dunnville-area farmer, Max Ricker, who chaired the founding committee.

But the story actually begins much earlier. The Ontario Corn Producers’ Association (OCPA) was the culmination of about 40 years of unsuccessful efforts until then to create a marketing board – or marketing board-like organization – to represent Ontario grain corn growers. (More on that history here.)

Details of the initial process leading to OCPA are a bit sketchy, but the process seems to have started with an ad hoc corn marketing committee of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) in 1978. The OFA made a formal request to the Ontario Minister of Agriculture and Food for the creation of a marketing board or equivalent in September 1979, supported by a petition signed by 1500 farmers, and another in April 1980, but both requests were denied.

Then in March 1982, another OFA-led committee developed a proposal for a corn association with no marketing board powers but which could administer an Advance Payments for Crops program under the authority of Agriculture Canada, provide information to farmers, and represent them on public issues involving corn. A formal proposal for creation of the Ontario Grain Corn Producers’ Association – later dropping the word, ‘Grain’ – was developed and presented to the Minister of Agriculture and Food, Dennis Timbrell. He supported it and OCPA was created formally on December 29, 1982 with five founding directors, Max Ricker; Doug Brunton; John Cunningham, Thamesville; Seldon Parker, Woodville; and Martin Schneckenberger, Morrisburg.

This achievement was followed by a hectic period of selling individual farmer memberships at $25, election of founding regional directors, and a founding convention on March 28, 29 in Toronto. Doug Brunton was elected first president. The initial OCPA office was with the OFA in Toronto and OFA staff researcher, S. Verraraghavan, was the first secretary. I became unpaid secretary-treasurer in July, replacing ‘Verra,’ though I was still employed full-time in the Department of Crop Science, University of Guelph.

In September 1983, OCPA leased an office and hired its first two paid employees, Judy Sweeney as office manager and Don LeDrew as program coordinator. Don was hired initially to develop and run an Advance Payment for Crops program for grain corn (interest-free money loaned to farmers at harvest time, to be repaid when the corn is later sold or fed; loans guaranteed by Agriculture Canada – later Agriculture and AgriFood Canada). Don quickly assumed other management responsibilities.

Terry switched formally to a one-quarter-paid time with OCPA in mid 1984 and then full-time with OCPA in January 1985 with various position titles including that of executive vice president.

OCPA was initially funded by annual memberships of $25 plus lots of volunteer effort. But Minister Timbrell announced at the OCPA annual meeting in March 1984 his intention to introduce check-off funding for the 1984/85 grain corn marketing year and an interim grant of $60,000 to cover some costs in the interim. The Grain Corn Marketing Act was introduced in the Ontario Legislature and approved in three readings, all on the last legislative sitting day of June 1984. OCPA had good political support from all three Parties in the Legislature. A mandatory-but-refundable-upon-request checkoff of 10 cents per tonne of corn sold to commercial corn buyers was initiated on October 1, 1984. There was no producer vote, which led to initial concerns that the request-for-refund ratio would be large. But to my knowledge, it never got as high as 1%.

The early-to-mid 1980s were a very difficult time for North American corn farmers, the result of plunging grain prices and extremely high rates of interest on borrowed money – all made worse by a preceding decade of mostly high grain prices, high inflation and interest rates often below rate of annual inflation. This combination had encouraged farmers to increase their debit obligations to finance expansion – making the financial blood bath to follow that much more severe.

From the beginning OCPA was focused on grain farm income. An early achievement involved finding an error in a federal calculation of whether Ontario corn farmers were eligible for a federal grain stabilization payout on sales in 1982/83 marketing year sales. The resulting corrective payment of $4.48/tonne went a long way in establishing the credibility of OCPA among corn growers.

The insolvency of Niagara Grain and Feed of Smithville in autumn 1983 led to a major campaign by OCPA that resulted in affected farmers recovering almost all of their lost funds for corn deliveries and sales to the elevator. That exercise led directly to the creation of the Ontario Grain Financial Protection program – a combination of buyer licensing for financial reliability and the building of a compensation fund using a checkoff on commercial grain sales. This program continues to work well in Ontario.

OCPA played a major role in the creation of two ‘Special Canadian Grains Programs’ in 1986 and 1987 to compensate Canadian grain farmers for a portion of financial losses experienced as the result of a then-intense international subsidy and trade wars. OCPA also initiated a successful corn countervailing duty trade action on Canadian imports of most forms of grain corn from the US from 1986 through 1991, which both boosted corn farm income in years when Canada was a net corn importer, and also highlighted the injurious nature of US grain subsidy programs at the time. The Canadian countervailing duty was very effective in reducing the damage to Canadian corn growers for five years. When it was eliminated by a World Trade Organization decision in 1991, the rationale for its existence had diminished substantially.

Likely because of this experience, OCPA became an active member of advisory committees to the Government of Canada during the development of the Canada-US Trade Agreement, then NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement – including Mexico) and then the Uruguay Round of the World Trade Organization negotiations.

Crop insurance reform was another early priority for OCPA. The organization playing a major role in reforms that led to better coverage and, especially the ‘floating price option’ that meant that farmers were compensated at close to harvest market price when they lost crops because of insurable weather perils. This was of major benefit in encouraging pre-harvest corn delivery contracts.

OCPA played a major role in the creation of several successive national grain farmer income protection programs that followed in the two decades after 1990.

In addition to farm income support/protection, OCPA was very active on other fronts:

A meeting of Ontario farm groups chaired by OCPA in 1986 led to the creation of what became AGCare (Agricultural Groups Concerned about Resources and the Environment) with leadership provided on safe pesticide usage and the establishment of Environmental Farm Plans in Ontario. A formal request from AGCare led to the establishment of Ontario’s Ontario Pesticide Education Program with its mandatory training and certification of farmers for pesticide usage. AGCare and OCPA played major roles in the early approval of genetically enhanced crops for use in Canada. OCPA lobbied aggressively for early Canadian approval of usage of genetically enhanced ‘Bt’ corn hybrids.

AGCare was headquartered in the OCPA office, with OCPA providing free rental and secretarial service for a number of years. AGCare later became part of Farm and Food Care Ontario.

OCPA played a major role in government approvals for and industry development of a biofuel industry in Canada. Terry Daynard served as an early president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, to be succeeded in that position in 1989 by Lambton County farmer, Jim Johnson (also an early OCPA president).

OCPA was driven by a marketing philosophy that, while Canadian corn exports were important, more important were opportunities to increase the usage of home-grown crops to manufacture new food and industrial products. This led to strong organizational interest in other bioproducts such as bioplastics, and in support for domestic corn processors who produced feedstocks for those innovative companies.

OCPA was also active in communications. A monthly newsletter to members was one of its earliest contributions and this led to a partnership agreement with Cash Crop Publications in Delhi, Ontario and the transformation of its former monthly Cash Crop Farming into the Ontario Corn Producer magazine (now known as the Ontario Grain Farmer magazine).

OCPA was one of the first Canadian agricultural organizations or businesses to use a fax machine (in 1986 or 1987) and this followed by purchases of fax machines for all directors. I well remember the discussions with other farm groups attempting to persuade them to also “get faxes” so we could send paper copies of material to them immediately rather than by day, or multi-day, courier service as was the norm at the time.

The same happened with email and Internet. OCPA and its directors all made this transition in the early 1990s and the OCPA web site won early Canadian national recognition (about 1995) for its innovative approaches.

OCPA was one of the earliest farm groups to hire a full time communications coordinator with his time being spent mostly on ag awareness activities as well as promotion of OCPA objectives such as biofuels.

OCPA was an active supporter of farm coalitions playing major roles in the early creation of the Ontario Agricultural Commodity Council (actually a transformation from an earlier OFA committee), the Agricultural Adaptation Council, ACC Farmers Financial, the Grain Growers of Canada, the Ontario Field Crops Research Coalition and others. These activities were largely the result of initiatives of OCPA directors and delegates, with support by OCPA staff.

I left OCPA in early 2002 and am not as familiar with association activities from then until formal amalgamation eight years later with Ontario soybean and wheat groups to form the Grain Farmers of Ontario. That transition occurred over several years with the three groups sharing a common office location but separate organizations at 100 Stone Road West, Guelph from 2005 to 2010. OCPA continued to be very active on farm income support programs and championed another (this time unsuccessful) trade action against imported US corn. OCPA was part of the coalition of farm groups responsible for creating, in 2007, the Risk Management Program currently used for farm income support in Ontario.

OCPA offices beginning in September 1983 were at 292 Speedvale Avenue West, then 190 Nicklin Road (September 1986), then 90 Woodlawn Road West (September 1991) and then 100 Stone Road West (September 2005). Formal amalgamation of the three groups, and the end of the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association, occurred on January 1, 2010.

Presidents of OCPA were:

Max Ricker, Dunnville, chair of founding committee

Doug Brunton, Marmora, 1983-1984

Ed Kalita, Eagle, 1984-1987

Cliff Leach, Paris, 1987-1990

Frank Anthony, Limehouse, 1990-1993

Jim Johnson, Alvinston, 1993-1996

Bob Down, Exeter, 1996-1999

Anna Bragg, Bowmanville, 1999-2001

Dennis Jack, Thamesville, 2001-2003

Matt Menich, Vanessa, 2003-2005

Doug Eadie, Ripley, 2005-2007

Dale Mountjoy, Oshawa, 2007-2009

A special thank you to Brenda Miller-Sanford, member of the staff of both OCPA and the Grain Farmers of Ontario, for her help in assembling information used in this column.

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: