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Cargill may fund ag organizations

(Friday, March 28, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Adrian Ewins, The Western Producer: CALGARY If farm organizations are going to survive and prosper, they need members and money.

The head of one major grain company said last week that while it's up to the farm groups to find the members, his firm is prepared to provide some of the money.

Cargill Ltd. president Kerry Hawkins told the annual convention of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association he sees no reason companies like his shouldn't help out financially.

"Grain companies should be free to fund farm organizations as they want without being accused of trying to buy influence," he said. "That's an absolute crock."

It's common practice for corporations to contribute to political parties, he told the 140 farmers and grain industry officials in attendance, and contributing to farm groups should be seen in the same light.

The goal would be to help organizations increase their membership, gain credibility with government, create debate and dialogue and end up with better policy decisions.

Hawkins told the wheat growers he's "terribly concerned" about the future of farm organizations.

But in an interview later, he also made it clear that his concern doesn't extend to all farm groups.

The only farm organizations in Western Canada that are of "any significance" are the wheat growers and the provincial canola growers associations, he said, and those are the ones that would receive any of Cargill's largesse.

Those groups have traditionally adopted policies that coincide with Cargill's view of supporting deregulation of the grain handling, transportation and marketing systems.

Asked if the company would ever donate money to the National Farmers Union, an organization that is critical of multinational grain and food companies like Cargill, Hawkins said that would be "highly unlikely."

The company wouldn't demand the right to approve the recipient organization's policies and platforms and would expect to have occasional differences of opinion.

The Cargill president said the company has no immediate plans to provide money to any farm groups and he was presenting the idea to generate discussion.

But he also made it clear that he was serious, especially regarding the wheat growers association.

"If the wheat growers can show themselves to be an organization that can draw a constituency from all the provinces and a large number of producers and they need money to do that, then I think they'll get a lot of support."

WCWGA association vice-president Ted Menzies said the association could be willing to accept money from industry players like Cargill as long as there are no strings attached.

"We're not interested in getting in the back pockets of any group, be it a grain company, chemical company or railway," he said.

"But we are an integrated industry, we do have common interests and sometimes our goals are the same."

The association receives corporate assistance for some activities, such as the convention, as do most farm groups, but operating money comes from farmer members, said Menzies. Like all farm groups, the WCWGA has financial struggles, he said, but declined to release details of the association's finances.