Lamb producers fed up
GM fired, sheep board has three chairs in three months but says they’re back to business as usual
By Brandy Harrison
GUELPH — The recent firing of the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency’s general manager is just about the last straw for a group of about 100 lamb producers from across the province, who say it may be time to give the marketing board the boot.
Lanark County sheep farmer Keith Salisbury, who speaks for the group that organized back in 2008 amid rumours about a check-off fee increase, says they’re preparing a petition to put the question to farmers.
"We suspect more than 50 per cent would want to leave. If nothing else, it might get their attention and make some changes," he says, adding that the organization works well at the district level.
For Salisbury, who had a conference call with other sheep farmers when general manager Murray Hunt was fired on June 8, the outspoken Hunt’s departure is a bad sign.
"It leaves us out in the cold. We didn’t always agree with him, but he had some good ideas and at least he had a vision for the organization," Salisbury says.
Fraser Hodgson, vice-chair of the marketing agency, says Hunt’s firing stemmed from a particular incident and shouldn’t reflect on his work at the agency. "It was very difficult to let him go, but the board felt we could no longer work with him."
It’s not the only change the board has seen in recent months. In mid-November, Amherst Island sheep farmer Chris Kennedy resigned as board chair and director. His replacement, Chris Kyle, of Ayr, also quit after only serving one month.
But Salisbury says these recent developments have just added fuel to concerns farmers have had for years about rising check-off fees — which did go up from $1.50 to $1.80 in the last few years — and a lack of abattoir capacity.
"We’re just upset we’re paying all this money and getting nothing for it. They’re not marketing our lamb. If that’s the mandate and they’re not doing it, what’s the point?"
The resignations prompted the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission, which oversees all provincial marketing boards, to start attending meetings.
Elmer Buchanan, commission vice-chair, acknowledges there was division but stresses he’s no longer concerned and has stayed on to help the board keep the lines of communication open.
Amherst Island sheep farmer Mark Ritchie, who replaced Kennedy in January, admits it’s challenging work and a big time commitment. He says that likely played a role in the resignations.
"You put 11 people in a room and they put their heads together to do their best for the industry as a whole. It’s not as easy as you think it might be," Ritchie says. "But things have settled down and we’re on track."