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Comment: Have your say on commodity groups

I want to encourage Manitoba farmers to attend the 2018 Crop Connect Conference. While there, attend the annual meetings of at least some of the five farm commodity groups that are considering a new way to promote the research, production and marketing of their crops.

Farmer directors of Manitoba Flax Growers, Manitoba Corn Growers, The National Sunflower Association, Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers, and the Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers are working hard to develop a new farm organization that would be more effective, and provide more operational efficiencies.

The main goals are to maintain and improve farmer input and control, while making sure as much of the farmer check-off dollars go to research, agronomy and market development as possible – rather than administration.

This effort to amalgamate commodity groups has been taking place for a few years. Member consultations began this fall and will continue over the next year, with the intention to have a complete proposal for members to vote on at the 2019 annual meetings.

I have noticed that many of the production challenges that face producers are not necessarily crop specific. Issues concerning soil health, like declining organic matter, compaction and increasing salinity are examples of this. The rapidly increasing issues of resistance to pesticides of both insects and weeds is another. Adaptation to climate change is also an issue better addressed on a whole-farm basis.

As farmers, we may also want to consider at least small investments towards developing crop alternatives. It is not been long since soybeans were considered a novelty in Manitoba, and only a few decades since rapeseed was a minor special crop. There may be other new opportunities we should watch for.

The question is whether our traditional structure of individual commodity organizations is the best way to respond to the new challenges that face our industry. All of these organizations have done a good job of developing crops to this point, but a stronger more efficient organization should be able to move us to a higher level of success.

I do not know of a farm that is only a flax farm, or a wheat farm, or a soybean farm. All of us look at the mix of crops that are available to us and try to decide on a cropping plan that offers the best potential based on market and agronomy opportunities. I think most of us also want to have the tools in place to produce crops we may not choose to grow this year. Next year or a different year we may decide on a different crop mix, and we will then want that technology to be available.

This new organization structure actually looks a lot more like a Manitoba farm than the old single commodity structure and may be a better way forward. It is worth spending some time over the next year to participate in the consultation process so that we have the best possible structure to consider at the 2019 annual meetings. As we challenge the status quo, we will only strengthen our organizations, and ensure we make best use of our available resources.

I hope to see you at Crop Connect or some of the other consultation opportunities over the next year!

Eric Fridfinnson farms near Arborg and is the president of the Manitoba Flax Growers Association.

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