Doug Chorney’s friends thought he was crazy in 1993 when he quit a well-paying job in the aerospace industry to go farming.
But the career move made sense to Chorney. He was investing in the future of himself and his family.
“It’s a choice I made and I didn’t regret making it,” he says.
Now, as newly elected president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, Chorney sees his new position as another investment in the future, this time in agriculture itself.
“It’s crucial to the economy to have a successful agriculture industry,” he said. “That’s why I want to be here.”
Chorney cites figures to show the importance of agriculture. Even though only two per cent of Manitobans actually farm, the agri-food sector is responsible for 9.5 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product and 14 per cent of its workforce.
All the more reason to develop sound farm policy because, as farmers go, so goes the industry, Chorney believes.
And in Manitoba, if you want a say in agricultural policy, you start with KAP, he adds.
Chorney says what impresses him the most about KAP is the quality and level of engagement by its members. That comes from having a structure involving people at the grassroots level. District meetings raise issues. Elected delegates and directors, as well as commodity group representatives, establish policy through KAP’s general council, which meets three times a year. An annual meeting is held in January.
KAP prides itself on being an independent organization run and funded entirely by its members, says Chorney.
“Name a group around right now that has a better grassroots connection than KAP,” he says with an uncharacteristic display of immodesty.
KAP speaks, but does government listen? Much of the time it does, according to Chorney.
That wasn’t the case in 2008 with Bill 17, the hog moratorium legislation. Even though KAP and other groups lobbied fiercely against it, the bill passed and hog barn expansions in Manitoba’s livestock alley were frozen.
But Chorney is philosophical. “You win some and you lose some,” he says.
More often, KAP makes its point, getting policies implemented and sometimes even managing to have unpopular ones reversed, says Chorney
That was true of the two per cent levy on quota exchanges included in the 2010-11 provincial budget. The province quietly dropped the measure following pressure from KAP and marketing boards, Chorney says.
Chorney, 46, was acclaimed as KAP president during the association’s annual meeting in Winnipeg last week. He previously served five years as an executive member and one year as vice-president.
Leading Manitoba’s general farm lobby organization wasn’t on Chorney’s mind when he attended his first KAP meeting in Beausejour as a university student in the mid-1980s.
He went on to graduate with a BSc in agricultural engineering, working first for Domtar and then for Bristol Aerospace.
But the farm near East Selkirk which had been in the family since 1939 beckoned. And in 1993 when Chorney’s father was unable to continue farming because of health issues, it was decision time.
It wasn’t all that hard a decision to make, as it turned out. Chorney and his wife Michelle, a registered nurse, had just had a baby girl. He had been doing a fair bit of travelling for his employer and welcomed the idea of a farm lifestyle.
Today, Chorney and his family grow a variety of crops – wheat, oats, canola, soybeans, timothy seed and vegetables – on 1,500 acres.
He admits it’ll be a challenge to simultaneously run his farm and serve in the demanding role of KAP president.
But Chorney says he won’t be a micromanager and will delegate tasks to the executive and KAP’s two vice-presidents.
A sunset clause in KAP’s bylaws requires the president to step down after a maximum of four consecutive one-year terms.
With an active young farmers’ wing, KAP is well positioned to nurture new blood for its future leadership, says Chorney.
The meeting also acclaimed Ron Brunel of Ste. Rose du Lac and Dan Mazier of Justice as KAP’s two vice-presidents. Brunel, previously vice-president, temporarily served as caretaker president after Ian Wishart stepped down last October to pursue a career in provincial politics. [email protected]