Ag Days holds the course on exhibitor numbers

This year’s Ag Days lines up with previous years in terms of size

It wasn’t a milestone anniversary year for Manitoba Ag Days, but the 2018 show matched numbers from last year’s 40th anniversary expansion.

Last year, the show added both footage and exhibitor slots after opening up the over-19,000-square-foot Brandon Curling Club for booths. This year, the show once again topped 540,000 square feet and over 800 booths.

“One unique thing about Ag Days is we are free admission, free parking, you don’t have to register and the seminars are free to attend,” Kristin Phillips, show manager, said. “Not many shows in the country will do that and so, I think that is why we are Canada’s largest indoor farm show and we’ve been so successful.”

Phillips expects curling club space to stay open for the next five years after signing an agreement with the club.

Young farmers

It is the “Year of the Young Farmer,” according to the Ag Days theme, something that set a new tone from last year’s 40th anniversary show, Phillips said.

“We wanted to really focus on agriculture and agronomy and economics and that next generation. By definition, a young farmer is someone between the ages of 18 and 40 and we really wanted to take that generation and promote them and show them what options are out there for them,” she said.

Wes Martens (right) of Killarney takes the next generation into the combine cab at Ag Days 2018 in Brandon Jan. 16-18.
photo: Alexis Stockford

A young farmers’ lounge was added to the floor plan, while a selfie social media contest promised a 10-day Cuban farm tour.

“They’ll actually go and see what agriculture is like over there and then part of the reporting requirement for them is they have to come back and write at 2,500-word essay on the experience and what they’ve learned about agriculture in that other country,” Phillips said.

Brett McRae, whose purebred cattle and grain farm lies just outside Brandon, was one of many young producers to attend.

McRae was both exhibitor and speaker. The driving force behind McRae Land and Livestock, a business he runs in tandem with his parents’ Mar Mac farms, he split his time between the show’s seminar lineup and courting customers for his purebred Angus and Simmental genetics. Mar Mac farms was one of 23 farms and 30 overall exhibitors to take part in the bull conference this year.

Brett McRae, a local purebred cattle operator, poses alongside one of his animals at the 2018 Bull Congress section of the show.
photo: Alexis Stockford

McRae’s turn on stage also nodded to the role of the young farmer. His presentation, “Grooming Future Leaders for the Beef Industry,” ran down the organizations and events like the Young Cattlemen’s Council and Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program that have helped him on his way.

Breaking into the industry now is different than it was for past generations, McRae admitted.

“It’s definitely a different economic climate than it was when many of these established producers got started,” he said.

Like many young producers, McRae is building on an existing family farm. He knows others, however, who are the first generation to take up agriculture.

“Each of those friends are very different production models on how they get up and going,” he said. “I think right now there’s a lot of opportunity in agriculture, but there’s also lots and lots of pitfalls a young farmer can run into.

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“We go through the same things that any starting business is going through,” he added. “Cash flow is crucial in our operations.”

Capital, such as land price and equipment, throws another obstacle in the way and might be one of the greatest challenges for first-generation farms.

Ag Days gives back

Half of the show’s 50/50 proceeds will once again go back to the community. Besides scholarships, the Ag Days committee offers funds in four categories from community infrastructure and emergency services to protecting agriculture and heritage and promoting education.

Three of four recipients were explicitly agriculture related. Agriculture in the Classroom scooped up $8,000 to the Grade 7/8 Ag Adventure Program which educates students on Canadian and global agriculture before touring the show, while the Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies (MAAS) received $5,000.

John Wishart of Russell takes a look at equipment during the 2018 Ag Days in Brandon.
photo: Alexis Stockford

“It’s going to enable us to launch The Real Dirt on Farming for the province and anyone who’s involved in the agriculture industry and being able to talk to consumers knowledgeably,” MAAS president Donna Sagin said.

The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) also received $5,000. The Farm Safety Feature returned to the show this year with CASA’s BeGrainSafe program as the centrepiece. The program now has its own mobile grain entrapment demo trailer after borrowing a similar unit last year.

“Manitoba Ag Days helped us last year with the build of the trailer, and then this year we’re going to be delivering firefighter and rescue training,” CASA development specialist Liz Ellis-Clark said.

BeGrainSafe ran rescue demonstrations throughout the show.

Other draws

This year’s New Product and Inventor’s Showcase both had a full docket of products. Seventeen products got their launch, with variable-rate services SWAT MAPS and SWATBOX from CropPro Consulting earning Ag Days’s best new product of 2018. Soaring Eagle Grain Equipment came out on top of 14 inventions with its swinging drive over, followed by a convertible belt conveyor system from AgriLite Conveyor Trailers in second. Never Spill Spout’s Full Bin Alarm got similar treatment from the Farm Safety feature.

Outside the bull congress and trade show, already a draw both in and out of Manitoba, the show lined up 63 speakers and seminars. Manitoba Canola Growers, Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers, Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives and Manitoba Beef Producers all filled a slate over the three days. Agronomy, maximizing yield, pathology, farm management practices, sustainability, organic production, market updates and trade forecasts were key presentations.

Tuesday took a solemn turn as speakers looked to rip back the curtain on mental health in ag.

“I think it’s a very important part of any trade show,” Janet Smith, Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services manager, said. “Most trade shows and agriculture are focusing on the production side of things. When you think about the word ‘agriculture,’ it’s those two parts of the word, agri and culture, and culture’s made up of people and when the people are struggling, so does the industry.”

Marsha Harris of Brandon University and fellow speakers Lesley Rae Kelly and Kim Keller praised Ag Days for adding mental health onto the schedule.

Canada’s largest indoor agriculture trade show largely dodged the wintery weather it has been known for. It was the latest in a string of mild shows, Phillips said, although the days leading up to Ag Days stayed frigid.

“Actually, the last three years have been milder Ag Days,” she said. “Move in has been brutally cold, so the exhibitors move in, in this extreme cold weather, and then it warms up for the shows.”

Dates have already been set for Ag Days 2019. The show will return to Brandon’s Keystone Centre Jan. 22-24 next year.

Malachi Dyck of Stonewall gets a helping hand out of the cab at the large machinery booths during Ag Days 2018 in Brandon.
photo: Alexis Stockford

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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