More MAFRD staff needed

Producers must travel farther than ever before to speak to provincial agriculture specialists in person

The Keystone Agricultural Producers is hoping to reverse a downward trend in the amount of support and outreach offered to farmers by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD).

Members of the province’s largest general farm organization resolved at their annual general meeting in Winnipeg last week, to lobby the provincial government to fill vacant positions in rural offices. The resolution also asks KAP to push “the government of Manitoba to support growth and development of personnel, research and extension services within MAFRD.”

Glen Franklin moved the motion and said having strong links between farmers and researchers is important.

“The truth is, when you look at what we’ve had in agriculture and where we got our resources for the things that we did, we got them very often from someone who worked in MAFRD,” he said.

Not so anymore, or at least not to the same extent as in days gone by, he said. In 2012, the Manitoba government closed some GO offices, increasing the distance farmers had to travel to meet with extension specialists in person.

“I realize it’s a changing world and there are more technologies available than there used to be, but just to put the rubber to road in southwestern Manitoba, there is no livestock specialist in the southwestern part of the province,” said Bill Campbell. The closest specialist is now in Portage la Prairie or Gladstone.

But while the resolution passed with strong support, there were some questions about the role provincial extension services should play.

“I kind of struggle in supporting this resolution,” said Rob Brunel. “I can appreciate the extension staff that we have within the province and the expertise and knowledge they share throughout our industry… but I’m wondering if it’s time to revisit what our extension staff and the province do for us.”

Others at the meeting noted that farmers are increasingly turning to seed and input company representatives for their information and agronomy needs, even if that information isn’t unbiased.

“I wish we would use our ag reps more, but we don’t,” said Butch Harder.

Keystone president Dan Mazier said it’s an issue that merits more debate and one that the organization takes very seriously.

“We’re in this time of elections and promises, so it is a good time to bring this forward, look at options,” he said. “I think it’s a reasonable ask.”

It’s also a good time to review all areas of government services to see what is missing in rural Manitoba and what could be improved, he added.

“We need to know what the needs are in those rural areas,” said Mazier. “The big thing is finding out who is slipping through the cracks.”

About the author

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Shannon VanRaes is journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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