Everybody likes a pat on the back and Premier Brian Pallister and his agriculture minister, Ralph Eichler, gave Manitoba farmers one when they spoke here at Ag Days Jan. 22.
Agriculture, they said, is a major driver of Manitoba’s economy.
“I am proud to tell you that 72 per cent of the private sector capital investment in this province since we became government (April 16, 2018) has been invested by and for agriculture and value-added agriculture,” Pallister said, sparking applause.
Agriculture and food processing accounts for almost six per cent of Manitoba’s GDP and more that 32,000 jobs, Eichler said in his speech ahead of Pallister’s.
Manitoba exported $5.94 billion worth of processed and unprocessed agri-food products in 2017, up almost 10 per cent from 2016, he said.
“Our food processing is gaining momentum and is positioned for future growth and economic impact for the benefit of all Manitobans,” Eichler said.
“Today food processing continues to be the largest segment of manufacturing in Manitoba, accounting for nearly one-quarter of all manufacturing value.”
That was $4.7 billion 2017, up 11 per cent from 2016, he said.
“This trend is continuing, with food manufacturing sales up by 17 per cent in the first two quarters of 2018 as compared to the same period of 2017. We expect this growth will continue.
“We will be a real contributor to increase Canadian exports and value of agri-food products in the coming years.”
New investments, such as Roquette’s $400-million pea-processing plant being built near Portage la Prairie, along with a long list of other projects (see at bottom), will add to wealth creation.
“The big thing that’s making us grow is you (farmers)… because you’re investing in a family business and community,” Pallister told the crowd.
“There’s a momentous ripple effect… creating jobs for young people so we can have more of our young people stay and work in this beautiful province.”
Farmers appreciate their contribution being recognized, Keystone Agriculture Producers (KAP) president Bill Campbell said in an interview later.
“Agriculture has had the largest growth in GDP of any sector in Manitoba,” Campbell said.
“It’s not just an off-the-cuff remark.”
Primary agriculture’s contribution to GDP was up nine per cent partway through 2018 versus the same period in 2017, according to data the Manitoba government distributed at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ November annual meeting, Campbell said.
The same data also said in 2014 Manitoba’s agri-food sector accounted for 11.8 and 13.5 per cent of provincial GDP and jobs.
Agriculture is on a roll, Pallister later told reporters.
“We’re building our economy based on what we’re good at and we’re good in ag,” Pallister said.
“It has demonstrated as such just in the last couple of years. Ag investments are really increasing. (A)nd we shouldn’t forget that the investments being made at the farm gate are also tremendously significant.”
The provincial government is helping too, Pallister noted, pointing to regulatory changes to assist farmers install tile drainage and build new hog barns.
“It’s hard not to be very excited and optimistic about what’s coming our way,” he said.
Pallister, Manitoba’s first farm-raised premier since Douglas Campbell (1948 to 1958), received a warm welcome at Ag Days.
(According to Wikipedia, Pallister and Campbell have other things in common, including coming from the Portage la Prairie area, attending Brandon University and a penchant for limited government.)
Pallister’s speech, sprinkled with farm anecdotes from his youth, sparked applause 12 times.
One was about starting to milk cows at age eight. One time he slipped while carrying milk to the cellar.
“I went down those stairs thump, thump, thump every step of the way right to the bottom step and my dad gave me a round of applause… because I did not spill a drop of those two pails of milk,” Pallister said. “I tell you that story because I understand how hard you work.
“So I’m not the kind of premier who is going to watch milk spilled anywhere. I will do everything I can to save you money.”
At nine he starting driving an International WD-9 tractor, which was notoriously hard to turn.
“And this province is going to take awhile to turn back in the direction that it needs to go but we’ve started,” Pallister said. “You can’t undo years of missed opportunities and frankly overt suppression of value-added industries like agriculture and primary industries like agriculture done over a period of a decade and a half (by the former NDP government). You can’t turn that around in three years.”
Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives won a record 40 seats out a total of 57 in 2016.
“We represent, I think, every farm-family in Manitoba, with the exception of the Carrot River west of The Pas,” Pallister said.
He told reporters he has instructed his urban MLAs to learn more about rural Manitoba. That’s partly why government members held a caucus meeting here ahead of Ag Days.
Pallister wants rural MLAs to learn more about urban issues. And no wonder. Thirty-two, or 56 per cent of legislative seats, are in Winnipeg.
“So it’s about learning… sharing perspectives and gathering knowledge and information — becoming more empathetic to the needs of people all over the province,” he said. “We want to be a government that truly serves the needs of people in every region of the province. Not some. That’s part of the goal of being here today of course.”
Recent value-added agriculture projects
- HyLife Foods—$179million invested to expand its pork production and processing capacity, including building a feed plant in the municipality of Killarney-Turtle Mountain, creating 165 new jobs.
- Roquette—$400million invested to process pea protein.
- Federated Co-op—investing $31 million and creating 31 new jobs.
- Maple Leaf Foods—investing $35 million to create 68 jobs in Brandon.
- MDI Holdings Corp.—invested $100 million to build a new dairy- processing plant in Winnipeg.