New control boards?

The old control boards in the fresh produce sector did good work in some areas, but ended up with a rather dismal record in other aspects.

Mike Cordes - Market Floor

Because they controlled the product entirely, they held the ace card, giving substance to that old refrain among market agents, “Product is power”.

Major buyers of fresh produce disliked the fact that they were forced to procure through the boards and baulked at not being able to determine the price. As the years passed, some boards started losing direction.

They began to neglect their core functions and started pursuing other activities – disguised as services for their members. Bureaucracy and incompetence crept in and for some at the top it was blatant ‘empire building.’ This state of affairs was never going to be sustainable.

1996 – freeing up the free market
Overseas, supermarkets were growing in strength and influence. Locally, their colleagues were doing the same – except that the boards were in the way.

As the opposition to the boards grew, they began to close down. Finally, the new Marketing of Agricultural Marketing Products Act of 1996 brought them all to an end, and allowed the free market to hold sway.

This new dispensation held many challenges for farmers. For one, they now had to market their own produce with no boards to cushion them from the realities of international fresh produce marketing. This left the door open for the supermarkets to step forward and start buying directly from the producers.

Supermarkets calling the shots
The supermarkets have done a great deal to continue improving standards but for many they have taken over that Draconian mantle once worn by the control boards. They also like to call the shots, as many a farmer will testify. Have they effectively become our new control boards?

Michael Cordes is an agricultural journalist, consultant, trainer and former farmer.