Business & Policy
By Jim Knisley
Just call him coach. For Harry Pelissero, general manager of the Egg Farmers of Ontario, that
is what his job is all about. You put together a good team, work with
them and the farmer-owners to develop a game plan and then take to the
A diverse background has helped the EFO general manager be an effective leader for his staff and organization
Just call him coach.
For Harry Pelissero, general manager of the Egg Farmers of Ontario, that is what his job is all about. You put together a good team, work with them and the farmer-owners to develop a game plan and then take to the field.
|Right man for the job. Egg Farmers of Ontario General Manager Harry Pelissero is a third-generation egg farmer. He is pictured here in his office holding an egg carton from his family’s farm, which was located in St. Catherines, Ont., and later moved to nearby Bismark.|
You watch carefully as things evolve and when a new challenge comes along you adjust and deal with it.
“The success of the organization is the ability to be flexible and to adapt,” he says.
Over the years, egg farmers have been faced with a series of challenges and shown the ability to survive and adapt, as has Pelissero.
He is part of the third generation of Pelissero’s in the egg business and a look around his office provides a quick history lesson. There are photographs, old egg baskets and old egg cartons with Pelissero printed on the outside.
Like many, if not most Ontario egg producers, the Pelissero family’s history in eggs and poultry stretches back three generations. His grandfather had a Shaver breeder flock. Harry Pelissero Sr., his father, raised chickens, produced eggs and peaches, plums and cherries after he moved the farm to 14 acres on Lakeshore Road in Grantham Twp. just outside St. Catharines, Ont. The family sold eggs, chickens and fruit to shops, restaurants and consumers in the growing city.
As St. Catharines grew, the farm became surrounded by residential neighbourhoods. In 1978-79 it was time to move. They bought a farm near Bismark, Ont. southwest of St. Catharines. The barns were dismantled and rebuilt on the new farm for pullets and layers. The farm has expanded over time with Harry’s brother Roger maintaining the family’s farming tradition.
Meanwhile, Harry Jr. got interested and involved in farm and provincial politics. He was vice president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) when, in 1984, then-president Ralph Barrie decided to step down. Harry ran for the presidency and was elected. He ran again in 1986, but those were very turbulent times and he says “I wasn’t radical enough” and consequently he wasn’t re-elected.
He adapted and chaired a federal/provincial crop insurance review committee.
In 1987, he ran for a seat in the Ontario legislature and won. He sat as the Liberal representative for Lincoln for the next three years.
The Liberal government was defeated by the NDP in the 1990 election, and Pelissero lost his seat to the NDP candidate. He attempted a return to the legislature in the 1995 election, but lost to the Progressive Conservative candidate.
|As a former lobbyist, MPP, ad man and farmer, EFO General Manager Harry Pelissero has learned how to work with a wide variety of people and how to deal with government bureaucracy and elected representatives.|
After his 1990 loss Pelissero worked for the Independent Contractors Group of Ontario to represent “open-shop” businesses. He sold advertising for McLean/Hunter Cable, but that job disappeared when the company was sold to Rogers and Cogeco and they got rid of their advertising channels. He also worked for a company that helped companies importing products into Canada reduce their tariffs. When free trade with the U.S. came into place, that service was no longer needed.
This variety of jobs – lobbyist, MPP, ad man, and farmer – created a unique skill set. Pelissero says he learned how to work with a wide variety of people and how to deal with government bureaucracy and elected representatives. When Brian Ellsworth stepped down as general manager of the Ontario Egg Farmers (EFO) in 2003, Pelissero was chosen as his successor.
To ensure the organization was able to adapt in volatile times he focused on the development of a strategic plan. This isn’t unusual, but EFO’s strategic plan is annual, which isn’t the norm.
“It keeps everybody focused,” he said.
It also keeps the organization flexible. If something unexpected comes up he goes to the farmer-elected board to adjust the plan and reallocate resources.
Over the years, the organization has faced a variety of challenges. Pelissero pointed to the cholesterol challenge, which came from some flawed studies, but raised concerns among consumers about eating eggs. It’s taken years to eliminate those concerns, but the scientific and communication efforts are paying off, he says. Consumers no longer equate eggs with cholesterol.
The recent recession was also a challenge, but a challenge of a different sort. Consumers responded to their economic situation by cutting spending, and shifting to economical, convenient, flexible, high quality food. Eggs were at or near the top of that list and demand for eggs went up.
Egg farmers also face the challenge served up by well-financed animal rights groups.
“We’re dealing with myths,” he said.
The truth is “farmers care for their animals. If there is a bad actor the EFO wants to ensure they are no longer in the egg industry.”
As far as any shift to enhanced cages, free range or other production systems, Pelissero says EFO is not going to mandate one system over any other. He said consumers now have a wide range of options when it comes to the eggs they buy. In the future the choice will likely become even broader. If they want free range eggs they are available, if they want omega-3 eggs they are available, if they wanted branded eggs they are available, if they want eggs from farms with enhanced cage systems they are also available.
Farmers will produce what consumers will buy, he said.
“We trust Ontario producers to make the decision,” he said.
Also hovering in the background, as it has for years, are talks toward a new international trade agreement under the World Trade Organization. While the talks have stalled, Pelissero believes 2011 could be a key year.
The U.S. hasn’t been fully engaged in the trade talks focusing on the recession, the banking crisis, unemployment, economic recovery and, more recently, the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. If it can put all of that behind it, the U.S. could shift focus to the WTO next year.
If that happens Canada and the supply-managed industries will have to ensure that the current proposals are dropped or significantly changed.
“The deal now on the table is not in the best interests of supply management,” he said.
Fortunately, the federal government and the provincial governments recognize that supply management is not trade distorting and provides farmers and rural communities with a stability that would be undercut if a bad deal comes out of the WTO.
The EFO works hard on communicating with governments, but the communications doesn’t stop there. This year, the organization is turning to its greatest strength – the farmers – to broaden and deepen its communications with the public.
The messages will be straightforward with farmers telling their stories. There will be an advertising campaign – “Who made your eggs today” – but it goes beyond that and will reach into coffee shops and municipal offices.
Because fewer and fewer people are involved in farming there is a knowledge gap among the public. Most people trust and support farmers, but they know little or nothing about farming. Egg producers can fill that gap.
“The public are hungry for information,” he said.
The bulk of Ontario’s egg producers are second or third generation farmers and not only does the public want to hear the stories the public are seeking advice and direction.
“It doesn’t take much to make a difference,” he said.