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Be Bold, Not Balanced

B

y most accounts, the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council’s 2010 annual meeting was well attended, full of new members and democratically run.

Those are all signs of a healthy organization – at least on the surface.

So why the hard feelings?

A former director went home bitter after the nominating committee did not renew her nomination after her three-year term was up. Under MRAC’s bylaws, a board member can serve three consecutive three-year terms before being required to resign for at least one term.

Kate Storey believes skulduggery and manoeuvring pushed her out after one term, not the stated interest by the board to ensure it’s fully representative of the agricultural community in Manitoba.

Former chair Barry Routledge rankled at a reporter’s questions – based on allegations raised by some members – that Storey was ousted because of her organic and National Farmer’s Union affiliations.

The allegations may not have been true, but they certainly touched a nerve and led to reactionary comments about “extremist elements” that suggest smoke, if not fire.

On the other side, Storey was renominated from the floor after a concerted effort by her supporters to “bring in the vote” like an old-style political rally. She was unsuccessful, but that’s democracy.

Others were up in arms because a requirement that members register in advance to ensure there would be enough food for everyone was misinterpreted by some to mean folks had to join in advance in order to attend. In reality, you could buy a membership at the door that morning and vote.

Both MRAC and the group claiming it was disenfranchised can learn from this episode.

First, it is simply not appropriate to use hearsay and innuendo to stack a meeting with new people unfamiliar with the organization in order to pursue a personal agenda. MRAC’s track record on support for organic systems speaks for itself. It has done as much or more than any other funding agency to help the organic sector organize and develop.

It’s also counterproductive. The NFU has a stellar record when it comes to analyzing what’s gone wrong in agriculture, and has good ideas for making it right. But some members have a problem communicating those ideas in such a way that people will listen without feeling alienated.

Confrontational tactics like these may have a place in partisan politics, but they don’t belong in an organization like MRAC, which is trying to move a complex, diverse industry forward using a model of consensus.

Bottom line for the organic sector is this: you don’t want to politicize this process or make it into a numbers game. If the future decisions of MRAC’s funding allocations were to be decided on the basis of proportional representation, the organic sector can kiss whatever funds it has been getting goodbye.

Meanwhile, MRAC needs to step back and assess its policies and procedures to ensure it’s considering all viewpoints – including those coming from so-called “extremist elements.”

Even if you only believe half about what is said about the challenges ahead for agriculture, our farmers are facing some extreme adaptation challenges in the not-so-distant future.

MRAC is one of the few funding agencies that has the ability, and in fact, the mandate, to push the envelope by supporting ideas and visions that don’t fit the conventional mould. It can and should support research that the private sector will not.

In other words, it shouldn’t necessarily be balanced. It needs to be bold and visionary.

The MRAC annual meeting this year made a few people uncomfortable, to be sure. But adaptation often does.

Never guess what the U. S. ethanol sector is counting on while it awaits a government ruling to raise the maximum amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline.

That people will start driving more.

“There’s been some discussion that unless U. S. auto owners start driving more that we are kind of seeing a modest ‘blend wall’ here. I hate to use the term ‘blend’ wall but people are having difficulty getting rid of ethanol here today,” said Dan Basse, president of Chicagobased consultancy AgResource Co.

The ethanol industry, which was developed as a partial solution to declining non-renewable energy stocks, is currently suffering from a supply glut and reduced demand due to the recession. It is looking to the U. S. government to increase the maximum blend of ethanol in gasoline to 15 per cent from 10 per cent.

Developing renewable energy resources is touted as a partial solution to declining petroleum reserves in the world. But that contribution is negated if the industry is dependent upon encouraging consumption growth to increase its profitability. It’s time for all to take a more responsible attitude towards resource management.

It’s yet one more example of the perverse economics that has underpinned this industry’s profitability from the start. [email protected]

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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