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Editorial: Stepping back

I first heard the words Manitoba Co-operator in the mid-1960s, when my father Bill Morriss, a Free Press reporter at the time, came home wondering why the editor kept offering him a job. “What do I know about farming?”

Not much, but then editor Q.H. Martinson was looking for a successor, and he wanted a good newspaperman, not a farmer.

A salary increase encouraged my dad to agree, at first reluctantly, but it didn’t take long for him to get hooked on agriculture and say it was the best decision he ever made.

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Some of that enthusiasm rubbed off at home but I didn’t know much about agriculture either when I got my first job in the field. Anyone who did might have been smart enough not to take it.

The federal government had asked former Supreme Court Justice Emmett Hall to chair a Royal Commission to review all the rail lines in Western Canada, and recommend which should stay and which should go. The commission contracted with Canada Grains Council to run a display trailer with information on the process. I was hired to run it, which involved driving into 38 towns on the Prairies, opening the trailer and inviting farmers to come in to find their rail line and elevator might disappear. I soon learned they had strong views on the subject.

Somehow I survived, and after the commission was over, I landed a job as field editor of Grainews, then a new and somewhat wild and wooly farm paper. I was soon learning about the nuts and bolts of farming through doing articles on subjects ranging from secrets of successful elevator managers through malting barley selection to proper Avadex incorporation (at that time, twice with harrows, at 90-degree angles).

That somehow led to an offer of a job as director of information for the Canadian Wheat Board, where for 12 years I learned even more about farmers’ strong views.

In 1989 my dad wanted to retire, and Manitoba Pool, then the owner of the Co-operator, asked me to take his place. That means that for most of the last 50 years, the Morriss name has appeared on the masthead of this paper. It was absent for five of those years when a few of us didn’t survive the transfer of the Co-operator’s ownership to a new grain company, and we started the Farmers’ Independent Weekly. However, Glacier Media, another new owner, welcomed us all back in 2007, and I was given the opportunity to be associate publisher and editorial director for the whole Farm Business Communications group.

Last summer I transferred the editorial director role to Laura Rance, and this issue is my last as associate publisher, as I’ve decided to step back after 43 years of the nine-to-five routine.

I’ve kindly been asked to stick around part time, so my visible or invisible presence may still be in these pages occasionally. However, as this issue is my last in an official role, it’s time to say some thanks.

First, to readers. It’s been a privilege to be welcomed into your homes, and especially to have had the opportunity to fill this space with opinions which may or may not be the same as yours. At the Co-operator, we’ve always taken the view that we’re here to bring farmers news and opinions — good or bad — not to be boosters for agriculture. That sometimes puts us at odds with readers, but they’ve continued their support.

That also applies to advertisers. A lot of writing for farm publications means reporting on their products, not always favourably. But advertisers have almost universally taken a professional attitude and continued the support that allows us to run a good newspaper. We often hear and read about the problems facing mainstream media, but many of us in farm journalism have so far been blessed with stability and rewarding careers.

Thanks to the employers who have hired me and my colleagues over the years, no doubt biting their tongues a few times after reading this space.

Thanks to my wonderful colleagues. I’ve been able to take part in hiring many of them and it’s especially gratifying to see them do such a fine job of running this and other FBC publications. Farm journalism is in good hands.

Thanks to my family, of course especially to my late dad but also to my wife Joan, who kept quiet about our crazy decision to start the Farmers’ Independent Weekly, and tolerated a couple of lean years with no paycheque.

One reason I’ve decided to step back is that Joan and I have recently welcomed our first grandchild. We’d like to spend more time with him, but that has to be in Austria, where our daughter lives and works. That means travel is in our future — 250 kilometres of Austrian cross-country ski trails beckon. However, a computer will keep me connected with our publications and the whole industry of agriculture.

As I learned in that display trailer, farmers aren’t shy about sharing their opinions. Thanks for letting me share mine.

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