Manitoba Ag Days GM says show is all-in on agriculture

Kristen Phillips says heading the show is a labour of agriculture love for her, the board and volunteers

It’s quite clear very early on in the chat that there’s one topic Kristen Phillips prefers to really steer clear of — Kristen Phillips.

But when you’re the general manager of the 2020 Manitoba Ag Days team that is staging the 43rd edition of Canada’s largest indoor farm show, people want to know what makes you tick.

Phillips, of course, prefers to talk about the January 21-23 event that regularly brings together more than 50,000 every year, features more than 10 acres of displays and is a mid-winter fixture at Brandon’s Keystone Centre.

Well timed

Phillips says the key to putting the show on every year is a combination of good timing and good planning.

“Manitoba Ag Days is the first major agriculture show of the year,” said Phillips, a 38-year-old dedicated ‘agvocate,’ whose home team includes husband Garret and three young daughters at the family farm near Roseland.

Kristen Phillips.
photo: Sandy Black

“Christmas is done and farmers are starting to look and plan for the next year. We are always pushing to be better and we try to get the best of the best at our show including agricultural speakers, products, innovation and exhibits year after year.”

Add to that the hard work of the volunteer board and countless partners, it’s a recipe that drives the event forward year upon year, Phillips says. It all stems from a deeply held and shared value from all of those participants — a love of agriculture.

“The board members are committed to ensuring the show remains 100 per cent about agriculture,” Phillips said. “They strive to ensure the show features equipment, to parts, to agriculture services and all things in between. If it is a part of western Canadian farming operations, you’ll find it at Manitoba Ag Days.”

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And, just like the show Phillips co-ordinates, Phillips is also ‘pure farm.’

“I grew up on our family farm in southwestern Manitoba with my parents Doug and Denise Williamson,” Phillips said.

“I have always been very active on the farm and am proud to be raising my young family in such a warm and generous farming community. This year, our harvest took 92 days and so I had to wear many hats as I was the grain cart girl, the trucker, the cook, the baler operator, the mom of three and the ‘gofer.’ I am also the agronomist, the bookkeeper, the marketer and cheque writer on the farm, so it keeps me very busy.”

For this year’s show, the vision theme of the calendar year was irresistible, as Manitoba Ag Days organizers announced the overarching show theme as “#2020 vision” and dedicated that theme toward hosting an overall program and accompanying ‘vibe’ that champions agricultural innovation.

Unexpected path

While agriculture was always part of her life, Phillips says she never would have expected her role and professional commitment growing to this level, and in hindsight she sometimes finds it surprising.

“This is really not something I ever saw myself doing,” Phillips said of her role as the contracted staff person at the helm of the massive annual show.

“I started my career in agriculture after completing my degree at the University of Manitoba. My first job was with Westman Aerial Spraying as an agronomist and then I came on to the Manitoba Ag Days board through my role as a farm production adviser with Manitoba Agriculture and I stayed on after I accepted a position with the Canola Council as an agronomy specialist.”

In her first year as board member she was given the role of media co-ordinator and discovered an affinity for advertising and promoting the show. When Jonothon and Christine Roskos decided to move on from their role as co-general managers of the show, Phillips decided to apply and was the successful candidate.

Phillips says Christine Roskos remains a key part of the Manitoba Ag Days team as the office manager and provides valuable insights, while Andrea Guthrie now handles media relations for the event.

Phillips also applauds the Manitoba Ag Days board and says their insights and combined experiences really help push the envelope in all areas such as selecting the always-popular and well-attended speaker lineup. This year’s show will see 69 speakers take to the stage including the high-profile Canadian speaker Rex Murphy and Manitoba-based vet “Prairie Keri,” a rising YouTube sensation.

Several regular show mainstays remain in place. Admission and parking is free. Manitoba Ag Days is the last show of its kind to remain completely free to attend. Once again, the annual kickoff breakfast will be held at the Canad Inn’s Great Western Roadhouse Bar and Grill on Jan. 21 from 7:30 a.m. until 8:45 a.m. with a minimum $5 donation going to The Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba.

“We know how important it is for our youth to be well nourished and supporting them at our kickoff breakfast is a natural fit,” Phillips said. “For the first time ever we will have a square available to take debit and credit cards at the event and anyone making a donation of $20 or more will receive a tax receipt.”

With 50,000 attendees expected to enjoy the innovation, camaraderie, networking, exhibits, speakers and displays, the only other thing Phillips wants to see there is you.

“We want to celebrate the innovations in our industry and the advancements that are happening from year to year… this show will bring you all of that and more,” Phillips said. “Networking is a huge component of our show and we hope you will join us on the red carpet. It’s going to be a great three days to be part of. Please come and join us.”

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