“I think it’s important to state things that are valuable.”
– BRIAN OLESON, U OF M
There was the usual praise from the dignitaries assembled at the base of the grand staircase in the Manitoba legislature.
Agriculture is a pillar of the Manitoba economy. Agri-food processing produces over $3 billion in goods and services annually. The industry represents a quarter of all manufacturing in the province. It employs over 8,000 people. And farmers are the ones who make it all happen.
But the relatively few actual producers attending the fifth annual Agricultural Awareness Day March 17 might have been excused for wondering how all these kudos help in their daily struggle to make a go of farming.
For Ian Wishart, Keystone Agricultural Producers president, the annual event does make a difference.
“Getting our word out in urban areas is an increasing challenge for us. Events like this are a really good opportunity to get a little focus back,” Wishart said.
Then, glancing around the crowd, he added: “Getting the message out to politicians about the significance of our industry is something we’re always working on.”
Certainly, politicians were prominent at the gathering, starting with Premier Gary Doer, who was the first in line for a lunch buffet consisting of Manitoba-grown hamburgers, french fries and oatmeal cookies.
The theme of this year’s event, “Farmers Start a Chain Reaction,” sought to increase awareness of the downstream off-farm and non-farm jobs that primary producers generate.
Representatives from James Richardson & Sons, Viterra and Bison Transport joined Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Rosann Wowchuk in describing farmers as linchpins in a business chain connecting suppliers, processors, distributors and consumers.
Brian Oleson, a University of Manitoba agricultural economist, said it’s important to formally recognize contributors to the economy, just as it’s important to celebrate birthdays.
“I think it’s important to state things that are valuable,” Oleson said.
“I fundamentally believe that agriculture is a pillar of the economy and these pillars are sometimes more evident and more obvious than they are at other times.” [email protected]