Methods And Benefits Of Our Cooperative Association
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ROBERT THOMPSON, ST. CATHERINES, ONTARIO.
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: I heard a story recently of a man who died and presented himself at the pearly gates, was admitted. and when he got there he was being shown through the different departments in order to choose one for himself. Finally he came into one where there were a lot of chaps—they were not burning. -Then he asked who they were, and was told that they were a lot of fruit growers that were too green to burn ; they voted against reciprocity, and were hung up to dry.
Well, I don't happen to be one of those chaps, for I voted for reciprocity. The benefits that it has been to our growers throughout the district, and indirectly to the growers throughout the province, are the same as they have been to our individual members.
But after all, it all depends upon the men themselves that form the association, and the men chosen as directors. No manager, no matter who he is, will be able to handle an association unless it has good di-rectors and good stockholders behind it. If they are not loyal and do not do what is fair, his energy and ambition or whatever he may have, or inducement or salary, will soon lag, if they are not loyal.
The benefits that we have received have been more marked indirectly than directly. No one knows this more than the directors, and those who have been in close touch with us.
Our association was possibly the first, although we are a joint stock company, at the time it was formed sixteen years ago; we had no law to allow us to become incorporated, but we are now running under a cooperative system pure and simple.
We have a central station for the province—corresponding to your state. It is not yielding the benefit that it should for the reason that there is only a few of the better associations that are willing to go in heart and soul on a business basis to support it. For instance, we have a lot of associations willing to take advantage of the Central station, getting the lowest prices for supplies, willing to send in their orders on that basis, and willing to wait and keep the central waiting for months until they pay for their supplies. The salue thing is true in our-local. These different associations throughout the province are framed in a different way. Some have capital paid up, and having paid up that will be there for years to come. As a rule, where fruit growing is on a solid basis that is the better way—but in some cases if the majority should not pay up very well, and thereby friction, and buyers from the outside come in and pay more money for fruit than the association can get, and in this way seek to injure the association, the members have become discouraged and felt to throw the whole business up. But when another season came around the results have been that the plan was revised and started on a fair footing again—sometimes better than before—because of the property there, which they felt they could not afford to let go. But where an association has no basis except the organization with a dollar fee, when little troubles arise they say they will not put their money there and refuse to do anything. However, they are not all this way and a few of the fruit growers are long suffering enough to put up with this kind of talk, the directors stay by their guns and the outcome of it is in most cases that these same ones will come back and in the end the results will be more satisfactory because of the organization. But just the same, where they have something tangible behind them, there has been more success than otherwise. It has been quite noticeable over there than in the counties in which the best associations are formed, the property has gone up. The largest number of our associations are apple growing associations, and are controlled by apple growing men, and all of the better ones have no trouble whatever in selling their apples and getting good prices for them. The effect of all this has been that the indifferent ones at first have noted the results and they have fallen in line not only to do better spraying, but give better care to their orchards generally and the standard is gradually rising so that on the whole we think the time is not far distant when every one that raises any fruit at all will be enlisted on the side of the improvement.
Then another reason why a better grade of apples has been put up of late is that we have inspectors and packers who see to it that a better grade of fruit is packed. Much has been said about junk pack—a good deal has been said about this by the retailers and in many instances the retailers themselves are to blame for this. This is particularly so in regard to grapes, but what we are seeking for is to raise the standard all along the line and uphold it and in this way establish a reputation for a good pack of superior fruit, which will bring us repeat orders from year to year. We feel very much encouraged in what has already been done, for we have been able to hold the price and secure to our growers one cent per basket more throughout all the northwestern district where we have been shipping our fruit, and we have been able to get it with-out any trouble.
In this connection, I desire to say that we must not become discouraged because after you have formed an association your neighbor desires to come in and be benefitted by it, even though he does not join the association. Don't bar him out. Be magnanimous. Let him receive all the benefits that the cooperation will afford, for he cannot long partake of these benefits and not be encouraged to unite his efforts with those of his fellows and in time will surely become a good working member, and when he begins to show a spirit of improvement, you will find it will he catching and that will help to raise the standard and so all will be benefited proportionately.
Then when it came time for us to purchase our supplies a few of us in the beginning thought it would be advantageous to buy in large quantities, and this we did, and it was decided that we would not draw the lines on regular members of the association, but we would supply any one who wanted to some in, whether a member of the association or not, for the more we bought, the cheaper we would get it, and the more advantage that came to those who bought, the more friendly it would make them towards cooperative effort, and that is what we were striving for. In doing this, we have been able to keep the price down to the lowest point to all the growers.
We have prices that we do not give out, that we do not even tell our growers, and that is one thing where the grower gains by going into the association. Those who join the association should have confidence in the directors and the association should have such directors as the members can have confidence in; and then do not hesitate to stand by them to the fullest extent.
We have been able, as I said before, to get the very best goods in this way, and at the lowest market price. We have a good man who has passed through Cornell, and is considered excellent authority on fertilizers. In this way, we are able to have his help, which we consider very fortunate. Then we have some other men who are expert in other lines, and they too, help us in the same way'.
Now, as to markets, to supply. Well, ask the fellows who have been there. Do you want to plant for the factory, or for local market, or for long distance shipping? Of course, the more lines that we grow, the better it is, for then all the eggs will not be in one basket. Then, by having these large supplies of various fruits we would be able to get a through rate of 66 cents to the northwest, whereas at the present time we have to pay a rate of $2.65 a hundred if we send by express.
Mr. Hale—I don't want to say a word against anything that sounds like opposition to the city of Grand Rapids, for if I did, I don't know as it would be safe for me to go out after dark, but I would like to say to you on the P. Q. that I don't think they have yet seen the full need of an association here: I have had experience along the same line of this gentleman, and we have done very well not because I managed it, but for other reasons. And so I am in favor of cooperation, and doing everything we can to promote a friendly interest and a lively spirit in the work.
Mr. Bentall—Mr. President : I had no expectation of saying a word here when I came—I came simply to learn. But I do want to demur from what I have heard different members say that there seems to be a suspicion abroad that it is impossible to combine the farmers. Now I think if is possible to combine farmers. They are alive to their interests, if they know what their interests are. Three years ago we formed a society in order to learn a little about our business. After a time we thought it would be all right to buy our spraying materials in car load lots. Then we thought to buy our packages that way, and our barrels by the thousand. That worked all right, and this last year, we thought we would ship together, and we did so, sending out eleven carloads, and on the whole, we were as successful as the men who shipped to the Chicago market. Now this has developed quite a large correspondence, and this year we have had more inquiries than we could satisfy. We have shipped 22 or 23 cars of fruit and we have not had a quarrel—not that we have not some times looked at things differently but nothing so serious but what it could be adjusted all right. We have acquired a warehouse property, and our own side track and we have been able to cover the expense of shipping for 5 cents per barrel, and members are packing their own fruit, and we have had only a very few real complaints. Not 5% of the fruit has been complained of. We have been so successful with our fruit in the north part has won for us many favorable comments, and repeat orders. The correspondence that has come to us is of a very satisfactory character and already we have had a good many inquiries and requests for doing business with us another year. One man bought apples 600 miles away, and then he came back and bought 3 carloads, so friends, this idea of cooperation can be carried out, and with us I am confident that we will easily be able to handle all the output of our district this coming year, in the manner indicated.
While some are a little skeptical at the same time the majority of our members, and those directly interested in the work, are heart and soul in the enterprise, and have taken shares of stock in the association. The packing has come up from 10e to 20e. I do not feel that the farmers are a bit more to blame for many of the troubles that are complained of, than the men who come out to buy. I could go into details on this matter, but I will not.
There are many places throughout the country where they will pay more than the Chicago market will give at the same time. The first four carloads of Duchess that we sent out were settled for in such a way that it netted our growers $1.85 per barrel at Northport.
A Member—Does each member pack his own fruit?
Mr. Thompson—In some cases they do, but these apples are inspected. Every barrel of apples packed in Canada must conform to No. 1 or No. 2. Growers are liable to inspection from the day the fruit is put on the market until it reaches the consumer.
A member—What do you pay your help?
Mr. Thompson—12 1/2 to 15 cents per hour to the girls.
A Member—Do you personally value your Canadian fruit market law?
Mr. Thompson--We certainly do. Indeed, the law that we had had been asked for by the fruit growers. The government in any country will do almost anything that incorporated bodies ask them to do. They will pretty nearly appoint the men who are satisfactory to the association. We have a new set of inspectors, but so far as I know, they do just as good work as the men who were there before. In every case, we look on these men as our friends. Take for instance, in the north-west, where we are sending our boxes, where the western fruit has been forced upon the people and these people have really looked right after the fruit growers interest. They will not stand for snide stuff. The result of it is that it has put our apple business on a better footing than it was ever before. At first, we had only No. 1. These were de-fined to correspond with your standard grade. We did not put the size on. Five years ago we defined No. 2, a smaller size, a little off in color, but free from any blemish that could in any way cause waste or decay.
It is a question in my mind whether you are ready for cooperation here. Cooperation does not take very readily until you are up against it good and hard. When you are, then you can get men to come in. When you are doing pretty well, it is hard to get men to come in, but when adversity comes, or there is something that causes them to lose their crops, then they are willing to do anything that promises to retrieve their losses.
Mr. Hutchins—To what extent is the success of your Canadian law due to the work of the inspectors? There seems to be a difference between your law and our Sulzer law—there you have inspectors, and it has occurred to me that this Sulzer law may be disappointing to us in its outcome because we have no system of inspecting like you have.
Mr. Thompson—That has been changed from term to term. When we first passed the law, we had but few inspectors. The fruit growers asked for more, and they have been increased from time to time. We had a fruit conference and there is talk now of a still further change in the law.
We now have one for every county. Of course, he has nothing to do for four or five months of the year, but these go wherever they are growing apples, and you do not know when they may appear. These inspectors are often very kindly disposed to the growers and frequently are very helpful to them in the way of suggestions concerning packing, etc.
A Member—We have no inspection under our law. I would like to know whether your law would have been a success if you had had no inspectors.
Mr. Thompson—No, sir, I do not think so.
Mr. Smythe—Your law in Canada compels all regardless of who he may be, to put his name on all closed packages—a barrel. Is that not so?
Mr. Thompson—Yes, in a way, but a crate of berries is not counted as a closed package with us. The law does say that all the shippers in Ontario shall put their names on the packages, but this is not in force, although I think it should be. I think it would make a difference whether a man's name was on his package or not.
A Member—How do you conduct the financial end of your supply purchasing?
Mr. Thompson—For our fertilizers, the system we have is this. We go to the different members and find out what they need. Perhaps one will say, "I want $300 worth" then we say, "Give us a note for $300 due the 1st of October." These notes are endorsed by good people and they are bankable and we can get all the money we want on them.
Question—Do you pool your sales on grapes?
Answer—Yes, they are pooled each week.