Examining Manitoba’s New Check Off Program

Manitoba announced that it has created the first organic grain check-off program to be seen in the province, which came into effect on August 12, 2021. 

Commodity check-off programs, or check-off programs for short, provide services such as marketing and research relating to a certain product using funds remitted from organic buyers, with the goal of increasing public awareness about the value of that product. 

The idea of the organic check-off program was first presented to the Manitoba Organic Alliance in 2018 and has now finally come to fruition.  The program will be applied to all organic cereals, oilseeds and pulses grown in Manitoba. Buyers with offices in Manitoba are expected to collect and remit check-off fees on behalf of Manitoba producers. Buyers who purchase from Manitoba producers but don’t have offices in Manitoba are asked to voluntarily collect and remit these fees but are not obligated to do so. If the buyer does not remit these fees, the producers must remit the fees themselves. 

Under the Agriculture Producers’ Organization Funding Act, a direct buyer must collect and remit 0.5 percent of gross sales on a quarterly basis. 

Producers can request a refund for these fees, but they must complete a form to do so. Refunds cannot be provided until after the fees have been collected. Producers may apply directly to the Manitoba Organic Alliance to have their check-off fees refunded twice a year.

The check-off program is unique in that the Manitoba Organic Development Fund, a subcommittee of the Manitoba Organic Alliance and the committee leading the check-off program, will have control of proceeds rather than the Manitoba Organic Alliance. 

Proceeds collected from the check-off program will fund organic research, extensions and market development initiatives, along with initiatives that promote other organic product initiatives. The check-off program will provide several benefits to the contributing producers, including: 

  • Mitigating the unpredictability of growing and market factors that could hinder the expansion of organic grains 
  • Conducting research and marketing campaigns designed to boost public knowledge for the mutual benefit of organic grain farmers
  • Optimizing marketing opportunities 

The check-off program is a result of extensive research from the Manitoba Organic Alliance. The research showed strong support from organic producers for an organic-specific check-off program with special interest in research and extension. After a consultation period, grains were selected to be the focus of the check-off program since there was no obvious market mechanism to collect fees from other products. Other sectors such as organic vegetables and livestock remain fairly small in Manitoba, so a check-off program for those products wasn’t considered viable. 

Manitoba’s organic grain growers will be able to enjoy more visibility and security thanks to the check-off program. The program will work in tandem with the general grains check-off program, a unique advantage for organic grain farmers of Manitoba that is not currently seen in Ontario. 

Manitoba isn’t the first of the Canadian provinces and territories to implement an organic check-off program. Quebec also has a check-off program for organic grain and Saskatchewan has a voluntary one. However, both of these province’s programs are priced at 50 cents per metric tonne for all commodities. Manitoba’s check-off differs with its revenue-based pricing model. This means that while the revenues from the check-off program will change yearly, it offers a fairer cost to farmers and will allow the program to grow as the sector grows in profits. 

In Ontario, OCO has a voluntary check-off program for both vegetables and grains. However, buy-in is on a business-to-business basis and is not yet consistently applied in any one value chain. . 

The Ontario Organic Council of Ontario is glad to hear that the voices of Manitoba’s organic farmers are being heard and we are excited to see the results the check-off program will produce.

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