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TheManitoba Co-operatoris saying farewell this week to veteran farm reporter Ron Friesen, who after 23 years on the farm beat, has decided to pursue other interests.

We hesitate to use the word “retire” because it’s hard to imagine a prolific writer and reporter like Ron quitting the keyboard cold turkey.

Nevertheless, his resignation presents us with the difficult task of filling his position.

Good farm reporting is a rich tradition in Western Canada, dating back for more than a century. Perhaps the most famous legacy was left by E. Cora Hind who moved to Manitoba from Ontario in the late 1800s to become a teacher, but who was hired as the agricultural reporter for theWinnipeg Free Pressin 1901. She was famous for the accuracy of her crop estimates, based on an annual tour across Western Canada.

The early farmer co-operatives understood the role of reliable reporting of news and events, thought-provoking analysis and helpful agronomic information in building a knowledgeable rural society. They formed their own newsletters, which later became newspapers, including the forerunner to this paper,The Scoop Shovel.

The annual meetings for those same co-operatives, marketing boards and industry organizations were where many a green reporter learned the complexities of the grain business – from the perspective of the farmer right through to the marketers, handlers and regulators. It’s where they learned to appreciate the value of civil debate in policy development – an art that appears to be on the wane in modern times.

And those reporters were responsible for conveying those discussions back to the farming community. It was, and still is, a symbiotic relationship that we believe serves to strengthen the rural community through knowledge, context and perspective. Ron lived up to that rich tradition with his accurate, no-nonsense style of reporting.

It’s getting harder to find reporters with the skills and the desire to cover agriculture. Being from the farm isn’t a prerequisite for the job. But it helps. And it’s no secret there are fewer farm kids around. The reporters graduating from journalism programs now are often several generations removed from the farm, and don’t comprehend the complex mix of politics, science and human interest they can find on the farm beat.

Whoever fills Ron’s position (we can never “replace” him) will no doubt learn that pretty quickly, but while we wish Ron well in his future endeavours, we’ll miss his presence on our pages. We suspect the farming community will miss him too.

What Is The Issue?

As the Prairie grain-marketing debate heats up once again, it’s becoming apparent that people don’t even agree on what the issue is.

Is it about marketing freedom? Or is it about the future of the Canadian Wheat Board?

Is it about farmers’ right to decide? Or is it about the government’s right to act?

Those questions are related, but they are not the same discussion, which is why the emerging debate is once again becoming murkier than this spring’s floodwaters.

Proponents of changing the board’s marketing mandate say this is about marketing freedom and what happens to the wheat board in the wake of losing the single desk is up to the farmers who support it.

But if they truly want the open market, why don’t they just say that? Instead, they continue to promise a “strong, viable board,” without providing any clue as to how the board would continue to carry on without the single desk.

All we can suggest to farmers who believe they can have both is to walk away from the rhetoric and take some time to think it through.

The federal government is obliged, according to the spirit of existing legislation if not the law, to consult with farmers through a plebiscite before changing the board.

Of course, the federal government is loath to offer farmers that vote, because, if recent farmer-director election results are any indication, such a vote would lose. To those who argue the recent farmer-director elections aren’t legitimate because voter turnout was low, the same argument could be used to question the majority won by the Conservatives last spring.

People who don’t vote don’t get to complain about the outcome. There were enough open market candidates running in the recent director elections. If farmers had wanted change, they would put those candidates at the board table.

In our view, the debate over grain marketing in Western Canada must first deal with the future of the Canadian Wheat Board in an up-front, above-board manner. Only then can we talk about marketing freedom.

Failing to address that question, or coming at it through the back door as the current government intends to try, will result in chaos. [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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