Bracing for major change in the agricultural industry, Manitoba’s ag community proposed the formation of the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council 15 years ago.
Founding members believed a common voice and vision for agriculture and for making rural Manitoba a better place to live was needed.
That need for collaboration and common voice is even more critical now, says an MRAC visionary and founding member.
“When we formed MRAC we were really concerned about the future and how quickly things were changing,” said Owen McAuley who addressed about 100 participants at last week’s annual general meeting. “My anticipation of where we are today is that you’re going to see more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last 15.”
McAuley spoke of MRAC’s early history, how as the original adaptation council in Canada, it helped spawn formation of sister councils across Western Canada as well as envision what’s become the present-day Canadian Agri- Food Policy Institute (CAPI).
This all emerged out of the belief that a collaborative voice coming from the ag sector was key to getting government policy-makers to pay attention.
Going forward, McAuley urged MRAC to make sure it represents not only the ag sector, but a broad diversity of interests within the food system.
“You can’t be viewed as just primary production. You have to be viewed as much broader.”
He cited a number of troubling trends, including agriculture’s chronic non-profitability, rising health-care budgets and a decl ine of Canadian exports of manufactured food products, saying these are issues that cannot and will not be addressed by segregated voices.
“I think the industry as a whole needs to come together and say – how do we better manage and better allocate risk within, not a supply chain, but within a food system?” he said. “The food system is about all of these pieces.”
New MRAC chair Shelley Curé, a dairy producer at St. Pierre-Jolys, said McAuley’s words reinforce the thinking around MRAC’s table.
“The phrase coined is that agriculture is a solution provider,” she said. “That phrase came from our table. Agriculture can provide solutions for health for the environment, for economics and for the revitalization on the rural landscape. But we have to break down silos. We have to start networking and building on these partnerships and relationships.”
Curé said MRAC is looking to broaden its mandate and expand its activities beyond administration of CAAP funding to be more than a single portfolio delivery agent.
“Because while we administer the CAAP funds, and we do it very well, I think we can take the talent that’s around the table, and do an awful lot more,” she said. Other adaptation councils administer checkoff programs and run agricultural foundations, for example.
“These are all potential possibilities of partnerships down the road where we can broaden our mandate.”
Since its inception in 1997 MRAC has administered Agr icul ture and Agr i-Food Canada funding for innovative agricultural projects that has helped fund approximately 650 projects. More than $70 million in investment in ag advancement has been leveraged by the council’s partnerships with industry, produce groups, government and private and public corporations.
The Portage meeting also featured a panel session featuring speakers from several projects supported by MRAC, including Dennis Hodgkinson of Eastman Biofuels at Beausejour, hulless oats innovator Scott Sigvaldason of Smart and Natural Foods Inc. of Arborg, Alphonsus Utioh with the Food Development Centre, Rex Newkirk with the Canadian International Grains Institute and Ron Giercke of Pronto Energy Group, inventor of a technology that converts biomass and waste organics energy.
– OWEN MCAULEY, MRAC FOUNDING MEMBER