What are the benefits of membership in industry / grower associations?

  Hort Snacks - November 2018
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 Except for a few examples, typically when producers enter an industry or start to produce a particular product, they find themselves one of a group of individuals that have common needs, concerns, challenges and experiences. In many cases, whether through need, desire, legislation or some other reason, interested parties have joined together to create an entity that tries to serve the interests of those members. This is the basic function of any association, board, industry group, or whatever you want to call it. There are many different “groups” that you might become a part of. The question that each person has to ask is “What benefits does such-and-such an organization provide to me?” A second question might be “What can I contribute to this organization that will, in turn, benefit me?”

So, what benefits might an association offer to you? Here are some things that associations may offer (FYI, this isn’t an all-inclusive list or in any particular order of importance).

A common voice for its members to government (all levels – depending on the nature of the organization)
Whether you like it or not, government is not able to listen to each and every person that comes to them for support or with concerns, let alone respond to said concerns, etc. A focused group or unified voice can bring common issues to the attention of government. It can also work with government to together create viable and applicable solutions for those issues or to strategically work to move the industry forward. An industry group can provide a focal point for government to go and collect the information that it needs to make informed decisions. In essence, the association becomes a sort of liason with government, for the overall good of the industry. By staying connected with an organization, you:
1) gain an opportunity to voice your issues, concerns, suggestions, etc. through a central system
2) learn of industry-wide issues or concerns
3) learn of programs, initiatives, research or other solutions that are forthcoming or in “the pipeline”

Provide information
Many associations develop information or provide various types of forums for information delivery to their membership. This might include workshops, conferences, field days, focus group sessions, newsletters, brochures, factsheets, research reports, or any number of other forms of information. In some cases, associations have employees which have the specific task of helping members with specific or particular needs.
Another facet of this same function is providing information to those outside the industry, such as interested parties, government, the public (consumers), etc. Many associations are now active on social media, promoting issues, as well as the activities of their members.

Market development / research
Not all assocations take an active role in developing the market for their industry; it really depends on why they were created and what their purpose is. In many cases, this doesn’t fit their role, but it can. Many times, associations will participate in activities that might provide some market spin off benefits. If market development/research is one of the purposes of an association, it is likely that your participation and involvement will be required and a key component of achieving successful outcomes and results.

Industry Promotion / Branding / Visibility
An association is essentially the face and voice of an industry, and as such, spends a great deal of effort in promoting the benefits, strengths and values of the industry. They might generate promotional materials or attempt to direct customers to their membership or the things (products, services) that their membership offers (market spin off benefit). Most organizations connect with the media and offer websites and other promotional tools. This is a big part of many organizations’ roles and is of significant value. An important point to remember that each member of an organization become a promotional tool for the entire organization, and as such, be prepared to step up and play your part.

Access to group insurance policies
Again, this would be one area that might or might not be something that organizations offer to members. Essentially, by negotiating on behalf of the membership, or by representing the membership, they can access something for the whole group at a reduced cost. It may not, howerver, meet all of your needs (but it might meet some of the key ones).

Access to resources – lower cost, bulk ordering, etc.
Similar to the previous point, by using collective ordering and purchasing, some associations can provide certain common items to their membership at reduced costs (price, shipping, etc.). This might include things like labels, packaging or plant materials.

Collective research
Many organizations have a function of either conducting or sponsoring research that serves the whole industry, which provides information, answers and solutions back to the group. In many cases, they might also play a role in providing a gathering place for the questions that need to be answered. Producers may play a role as cooperators or assist in research by providing insights, input, resources or direction. Producers should make sure that they both contribute ideas for research (and perhaps some starter solutions for the questions that are asked).

Membership in relevant industry or grower organizations can be very valuable. Carefully consider whether a particular group can offer you services or benefits that you are not able to access or achieve on your own, at a comparable cost. Don’t forget, while some organizations have a formal structure, less formal or informal co-operatives or partnership groups can also offer benefits to individuals. It is also important to remember that you get out what you put in. Be prepared to get involved.

Membership on Association Boards, Committee or Working Groups
Most associations are largely run by a volunteer board and much of the functional work of any group is done by it’s board, committees or it’s membership. Service on a board requires work and some sacrifice, but if an association is to be successful, consistent, diligent effort and contributions are necessary. If you do serve on a board, put it all out there. Contribute and share your experience, expertise and passion for your industry. Lead by example. Your members and industry will appreciate it and be all the better for your efforts.

Some of the associations or organizations that are out there that might be of interest to some of you or that concern you (again, not a comprehensive list):

Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association (AFFPA) (or equivalent organizations in adjacent provinces, such as the Prairie Fruit Growers Association, SK Fruit Growers Association, SK Vegetable Growers, etc.) – direct market fruit and vegetable producers, direct marketers, etc.
Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association (AGGA) – greenhouse vegetable and ornamental producers, garden centres, tree seedling greenhouses.
Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA) – any person that grows over 5 acres of potatoes
Landscape Alberta – green industry – nurseries, landscapers, sod farms, etc.
Alberta Farmers Market Association (AFMA) – Alberta certified Farmers’ markets
Haskap Canada – those interested in Haskap or blue honeysuckles
Haskap Alberta – those interested in Haskap production in Alberta
Canadian Cherry Producers (CCP) – those interested in dwarf sour cherries (prairie types)
Canadian Prairie Fruit Federation (CPFF) – tri-provincial organization comprised of representatives from each provincial fruit growers association and provincial government, with the focus of creating efficiencies in research, branding/marketing, etc.
Canadian Horticulture Council (CHC) – national body that has membership made up of provincial industry groups and other bodies
North American Farm Direct Marketers Association (NAFDMA) – North American organization for farm direct marketers
North American Strawberry Growers Association (NASGA) – North American organization for strawberry growers, researchers, suppliers, etc.; tours, research, conferences, information, networks
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This information published to the web on October 30, 2018.