Processing vegetable growers blindsided by provincial decision on 2020 tomato contracts

Field tomatoes loaded and headed for the processor. Photo Credit: Francis Dobbelaar

Ontario’s processing vegetable growers are expressing their disappointment over a recent provincial ruling concerning contracts for the 2020 processing tomato crop.

The provincial agriculture department announced recently its intent to overhaul the regulated marketing system and move to a direct contracting model versus the current negotiation model between growers and processors. The Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers says they were not consulted on the change, nor were they informed a decision had been made ahead of the announcement.

Cathy Lennon, general manager of Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG), says the province made the move to address “decreasing investment and declining volumes” in the industry, a claim she says OPVG’s statistics do not support. While the government is fingering the cost of produce as a challenge to keeping processors in Ontario, Lennon says processors have identified alternative challenges — things such as hydro costs, taxes, access to labour, and foreign worker programs.

What’s more, the OPVG board held a meeting at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs office very recently, but no mention of the impending change or decision was discussed, according to Lennon.

There is a concern that the decision to move to a direct contracting model will lead to fewer growers producing more of the crop at a lower price. Currently, about 80 farm families produce processing tomatoes for the industry. (Story continues below)

“The board’s position on changes to the marketing system has been clear – we want the opportunity to be involved in developing a marketing structure and process that directly impacts the livelihood our farm families depend on,” says OPVG vice chair Michael Denys in a news release.

The organization is a marketing board regulated under the Farm Products Marketing Act and represents nearly 400 Ontario processing vegetable growers producing just under $100 million worth of crops such as tomatoes, onions, sweet corn, carrots, cucumbers, green, wax and lima beans, green peas, squash and pumpkin.

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