By Tom Collins
SPENCERVILLE — Geri Kamenz, a man who once said his job was to do the dirty work for the Ontario government, is stepping away from some aspects of farming and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission to spend more time with his family.
Kamenz, 56, spent eight years as chair of the commission before handing in his resignation letter in December. Those eight years were twice as long as any other previous chair and required a weekly six-hour drive to Guelph.
“It’s time for Geri to recharge his batteries,” he told Farmers Forum. “Give me six to 12 months to catch my breath. I feel like I’ve run a bit of a marathon, especially these last two years. It’s that last leg of the marathon where they’re back in the stadium and they’re just running all out and then they cross the finish line and they just collapse. I feel a little bit like that.”
Kamenz is also stepping back from the farm life. His Spencerville hog operation with 370 acres — 280 workable — was listed for sale at $2.7 million and was on the market for about a year. It closed on Jan. 5. Kamenz will stay in farming with a 30-cow beef herd of Gelbvieh purebreds and a 300-acre farm just up the road from his former hog farm. He plans to stay in the Spencerville area. He and his wife have two grown daughters. One married a farmer. The other is studying at a post-secondary level.
Kamenz once described himself as a cleaner, someone who does the dirty work so government officials don’t have to.
“In many respects that’s what we are . . . We are the cleaners.” The National Post reported (last August) Kamenz saying that in a video recorded at an Egg Farmers of Ontario meeting. “We are the ones who are arm’s length from government so that the minister, or the cabinet, or anyone else in government does not have to get their hands dirty and direct people what to do. It’s our role to sit down with your board and other boards, with the processing community, and get at the heart of a problem and then go clean it up, to keep it out of the mainstream media and keep it out of the press and chart a more successful path forward.”
As the part-time commission chair, Kamenz earned $105,461.40 in 2015.
His time as commission chair was not without controversy. Lawyer Don Good was representing Svante Lind when the egg company filed a $35-million lawsuit that charged that the Egg Farmers of Ontario conspired with two large egg processing companies to destroy the competition. None of the allegations were proven in court.
In 2011, Good asked Kamenz to investigate the operations of the Egg Farmers of Ontario. Kamenz told Good the commission would consider it. But the commission had already decided not to investigate and didn’t tell Good for more than a year. “Stop the nonsense,” Good wrote to Kamenz and that line became a front page Farmers Forum headline.
The recent biggest controversy for Kamenz, a former air force pilot and former president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, came last summer when the commission proposed stripping the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers’ association of its negotiation power. The commission’s proposed amendment would have removed the ability of vegetable growers in the province to bargain collectively; processing companies would instead negotiate contracts with producers directly.
Kamenz, said in an open letter that Ontario’s processing industry would cease to exist under the current marketing system, contending that a free market system would allow the industry to grow.
Growers were furious and Ag Minister Jeff Leal called a halt to the proposal in August. Kamenz resigned after just starting a new term with the commission.
Lanark County crop farmer and former head of the Ontario Landowner’s Association John Vanderspank said that while he butted heads with Kamenz at times, Kamenz was an honest, no-nonsense guy.
“He didn’t always agree with you, but at least he was up front with you. I admired that. Even though he was a very staunch Liberal, he was still willing to work for farmers and with us.”