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Farmers Are In This Together

It might be time to start paying attention. Consumers are beginning to use their dollar power to drive agriculture and we farmers don’t know where that will take us.

Ihave no argument with the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council. My goal is always for farmers to work together to find innovative solutions as the food world changes around us.

That is why I am devastated to read in the papers that I am supposedly in the centre of a reincarnation of an old MRACNFU disagreement.

For someone in the centre, I am amazingly out of the loop. I don’t know who has been saying what about me, or why.

Certainly, I was disappointed when MRAC did not nominate me for a second term on their board. But I am not bitter. I don’t have any quarrel with MRAC and I didn’t “bring in the vote,” although the show of support for me at the recent annual meeting warmed my heart and rebuilt my confidence.

I continue to regard the other board members as friends and thoroughly enjoyed the work we did to move agriculture forward in Manitoba. However the farm community doesn’t need to waste their time on an argument about whether one farmer was or wasn’t elected to the board.

I’m just an average farm woman and it’s not surprising that MRAC doesn’t need my ideas because they have several other grain farmers, cattle farmers and another organic rep.

I can offer some experience in direct marketing, but that does not fit well into the new MRAC mandate.

MRAC is a research funding organization. With farm gate sales, there is little research to fund, or product to develop. I suppose someone could invent a new type of portable freezer, but that is about as innovative as direct marketing gets. Processing capacity and food safety regulations are high priorities, but they seem to be a bit outside of the mandate. Even traceability development initiatives aren’t going to help local marketing. There is nothing quite as traceable as a farm gate sale.

You are likely a direct marketer and don’t recognize it. If you’ve ever sold a side of beef, helped your kids sell eggs to a neighbour, or sold tomatoes at a farmers’ market, you are a direct marketer. It’s a pretty common way to make some extra income on the farm.

And yet, direct marketing is an issue which makes the ears close and the backs turn when it’s brought to the boardroom table or the conference room floor.

It might be time to start paying attention. Consumers are beginning to use their dollar power to drive agriculture and we farmers don’t know where

that will take us. We focused our businesses on the export market, not the local market. Now we are being pushed toward local food systems and it can seem intimidating, even threatening.

I really admire and encourage the farmers out there with the initiative and work ethic to be good marketers. But I would rather be a farmer than a salesperson. I am much better at managing a worried mama cow than managing a finicky customer. The cow and I understand each other and she doesn’t change her mind.

So it’s not surprising to me if others in the farm community get worried whenever those words “local” or “direct” become part of the conversation. We are all under intense economic pressure. The natural

reaction to pressure is to circle the wagons, gravitate toward those just like ourselves and view small differences with suspicion.

Too bad, because every farm is different and farmers are getting scarce. Only two out of 100 Manitobans are now engaged in farming. If there ever was a time for farmers to put aside their old animosities and work together, it is now. Right, left, big, medium, small, organic, specialty, feedlot, grass fed, wheat board, free marketers… we need each and every innovative idea on the table if our towns and our way of life are going to survive.

We can see new challenges on the horizon. The weather is unpredictable. Labelling laws are changing. Consumers are pushing us. The high Canadian dollar value is cutting into export sales.

Each of us will face the next years with our own independent, made-on-the-farm solutions. Some of us might expand, seeking those promised economies of scale. Some may choose to downsize, seeking freedom from debt. We might try organic, or we might try high tech. Whatever solutions we find or organizations we join, we know that our communities expect us to get along.

So, lay down your rhetoric, guys. It’s not 1970 any more. Respect each other. Listen to new ideas. Forgive mistakes. Learn from our differences. Help each other. The face of farming is changing and we have some adapting to do. We’re all in this together.

Kate Storey is a cattle and grain farmer near Grandview, Man.

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