After spending nearly two years struggling to reinvent the organization, the board of the former Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council (MRAC) is winding up the group.
The Prairie Improvement Network (PIN) as it is now known, will cease to exist as of Mar. 31.
Directors agreed last week, during a final annual general meeting held by conference call to create an endowment to fund scholarships for graduate students at the University of Manitoba from the remaining funds in its reserve.
It’s a tough decision but directors believe it’s the right one, said Souris-area farmer Dustin Williams who chairs PIN’s eight-member board.
“There just wasn’t the funding out there that we hoped there would be in the industry to keep us moving forward,” he said.
PIN carried on after 2014, when Ottawa centralized administering the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP). Until then, 14 regional councils across the country, including MRAC, ran the programs locally.
PIN tried to seek out new partnerships and streams of revenue in innovation programming. Those efforts haven’t yielded the results members had hoped, Williams said.
“Simply put, there aren’t as many available sources of funding available to organizations,” he said. “And there’s less groups interested in funding organizations to work on behalf of them.”
MRAC formed in 1996 and over its 20-year history, supported over 700 projects, distributing just under $29 million towards adaptation and innovation. Working with industry partners, the group was able to leverage an additional investment of $102 million, for a total of over $131 million directed into agricultural advancement in Manitoba and Canada.
Williams said board members decided to cease operations now while the group still has cash in reserve and can create this scholarship fund as a lasting legacy.
But it’s still a sad day, he said.
“Manitoba farms are losing one more tool that they had in trying to support their industry,” Williams said.
Retired farmer Owen McAuley, who helped get it started, agrees.
“What will be missed more than anything is a group that took a broad look at rural issues,” he said. “Without an organization like this you tend to get silos built around the thinking.”
MRAC always aimed to keep the broadest range of needs of all Manitobans front and centre, he added.
PIN can be proud of all it has achieved, McAuley said.
“I think Manitoba has been well served and the whole rural area has been well served,” MacAuley said. “We funded a lot of small projects and a lot of organizations putting together small industries to help the rural communities adapt to the new environment that was being put in place.”
The Assiniboine River Basin Initiative, which PIN got going, is an excellent example of something that will have ongoing and lasting impact across the Prairies, he said.
The full value of the endowment fund will be announced later this year. It will support graduate students at University of Manitoba focusing on research, including social sciences within the faculty of agricultural and food sciences. Each year, beginning in 2018-19, the available annual income and any unspent revenue from the fund will be used to offer one or two scholarships.