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  OFA's Farm & Country on the ropes
By Tom VanDusen - AgriNews Staff Writer

The OFA's glossy news magazine Farm and Country is on the financial ropes and directors don't want to inject any more money into sustaining it, The AgriNews has learned.

In fact, one OFA director reached for comment who asked to remain unnamed said he was surprised a regular edition of the twice-monthly magazine was published earlier this month. The director made it clear that, from his perspective, the magazine had been expected to close shop by now.

The fate of the troubled publication will be debated - as it has for most of this year - at a meeting in Toronto July 21.

Bolstered by dribs and drabs of OFA financial support over the past two years which the director said now total around $700,000, federation subsidiary Agricultural Publishing Company Ltd. (APC) recently launched a glitzy campaign marketing ad-poor Farm and Country to potential advertisers.

Announcing the publication appeals most to younger, ambitious farmers, a four-panel promotional mail-out makes a case that the right decision was taken in 1997 when the old tabloid newspaper format was dumped in favor of the twice monthly, full color magazine.

While it may have been successful editorially, critics within the OFA argue it was a disaster financially.

The costly transition brought APC and Farm and Country to the financial brink, a situation rectified only when the OFA executive decided to keep kicking in cash. That decision caused dissention in the ranks, with more than one angry letter fired off to directors, general members and newspaper editors.

One writer was Douglas Cleary of Grenville County who expressed his "great disappointment" with handling by the executive of the APC crisis. He called it a "dismal" show of leadership and total lack of financial responsibility.

Cleary complained directors have been asked to hand over the money without supporting documentation, no chance to review options, no guarantees and "no real assurance that this is anything more than a short term gift to the people at APC".

What legitimate business, Cleary wondered, would seek a loan or bailout without presenting financial statements, a business plan, and a cash flow projection? And why did the executive come to the directors without the proper paperwork?

The Grenville alternate director suggested the ramifications of letting APC fold should have been fully considered, including cost to the OFA of shutting it down.

"It is my hope that the directors will scrutinize every detail of the executive members actions for the rest of their term to insure this sort of abuse never happens again," Cleary concluded.

Reached by The AgriNews, Cleary said he was out of touch with the current situation because, as alternate to Geri Kamenz, he hadn't attended any recent meetings.

"The letter certainly didn't make me any friends at APC or in the OFA executive," Cleary understated.

Kamenz said he couldn't discuss details of recent meetings which were held in-camera. However, he noted Grenville County's position on APC and Farm and Country is that it's supportive of OFA business ventures that earn a profit but subsidiary companies should compete on equal footing in the marketplace without cash transfusions.

Kamenz stressed that F&C is purely a press vehicle. Internal communications needs are served by The OFA Digest and other regular material.

The Farm and Country promotional pamphlet recalls that focus group tests indicated the shift in format would work. They also made it clear that more news was required, as were advice, ideas and in-depth information about the challenges and opportunities in Ontario farming.

After the publication was re-launched, a survey of 2500 Ontario operations which drew a 47.5 per cent response rate indicated 80 per cent of respondents read at least three of the last four issues, "a phenomenal score for a controlled circulation magazine".

The new Farm and Country got its highest ratings from cash crop or dairy farmers under 45, with income over $100,000, who "represent the future of agriculture in Ontario."

The flyer also brags that F&C has the largest audited circulation of all Ontario farm publications, its readership covers over 90 per cent of farm households, it enjoys maximum credibility, it contains award-winning editorial content, and competitive advertising rates make it the "obvious choice to reach the Ontario farm market both effectively and efficiently".

Obvious or not, as colleagues in the Ontario farm publishing business often mused, the ad content never appeared to be able to sustain the high-end costs.

"As a general rule, you can't print more pages than advertising content dictates," said Agrinews publisher Robin Morris. "To do so is to invite disaster."

 
 

 
 


Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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