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Honouring The Builders

JOHN MORRISS

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

It’s always a pleasure to drive to Portage for the annual induction ceremony for the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame, especially since it’s around berry season in mid-July and you can head home with a supply of strawberries and saskatoons from roadside stands along the way.

In recent years the crowds seem bigger than ever. The bleachers at the Glesby Centre are filled not only with friends and family of the inductees, but also with those who may not know them personally but who come to honour their contributions. That makes it a great social event, and an opportunity to see people that you might otherwise only meet once a year.

The real reason, of course, is to recognize those who built agriculture in Manitoba. It’s notable however, that most of the inductees have not been just added to the financial bottom line of the industry, but who have also been drivers in building their communities.They are 4-H leaders, municipal councillors, farm organization leaders and general volunteers for their area and beyond.

That makes the event a nice reminder that ultimately, that’s what farming is all about – building a life for family and community. It’s also a reminder that today’s generation has something to learn from those who have preceded it.

Though we’ve never heard one of those “It was so tough back then that…” statements at a Hall of Fame event, for many inductees, it was tough back then. Starting a farm or community from scratch was no easy job in times when there was scarce money, transportation and health care. Then there were two World Wars and the effects of losing so many young men for several years, or forever.

Last week, one of the people accepting the award was former premier and governor-general Ed Schreyer on behalf of his late father-in-law Jake Schulz, the founding president of the Manitoba Farmers Union (MFU). Farm politics these days may be a bit testy at times, but steam is mostly blown off in press releases and letters to the editor. Back in the 1950s it consisted of one-on-one fiery rhetoric at packed meetings, and police were called to break things up at least once.

There are still a few old wounds from old battles between Manitoba Pool and the MFU. Perhaps in an effort to heal them, Schreyer acknowledged and regretted some of the bad blood, but noted that some good things that emerged from the idealogical battles of those days, cash advances and even medicare among them. He wondered if we aren’t too afraid of confrontation these days, and whether new and better things might also arise from more vigorous discussion.

An interesting observation at a time when we can all retreat to our own favourite Internet chat room, often anonymously, and pretend that we’re participating in the public-policy process. Would we still have strong farmer-owned grain companies today if there had been more debate?

NOT COST, BUT VALUE

Cam Brown, another Hall of Fame inductee last week, took the opportunity to do what he called a “bit of editorializing.” He said that during his career, one of the most important things he’s learned is the value of a system providing fair weights, grades and financial assurances – in other words, the work of the Canadian Grain Commission.

Government regulation tended to go out of fashion for a while, but it’s back big time following the world financial meltdown. Canada’s regulation of its banking system is now being held up as a shining example to the world.

This reputation is not new when it comes to grain. A few years ago, during a course for buyers from 18 countries, we had a session on contract specifications with a U. S. representative of an international grain inspection firm. He started by saying that if you were only buying Canadian grain, you had nothing to worry about and didn’t have to pay any attention to his talk.

It’s impossible to overestimate the value of a reputation such as that, based on assurances of independent, third-party quality certification underwritten by the Government of Canada.

Part of that quality package is the integrity of the variety-registration system, and the assurance of quality through the inspection system for pedigreed seed. Last week seed growers were told that in five years, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would cease certifying pedigreed seed. In the meantime the CFIA is going to full cost recovery and doubling inspection fees to $1.50 per acre.

There are two parts to the issue. One is cost, which ultimately will be paid by farmers at a time when they are being nudged toward using more pedigreed seed. The end of KVD makes them responsible to guarantee wheat variety, and pedigreed seed was one of the solutions for ensuring this year’s flax crop is GM free.

But the most important part of this issue is not cost, but value. While the inspection might be done by a private firm, the value of the service is many times greater if the buyer knows it’s backed by government. The CFIA and the agriculture minister should reconsider. [email protected]

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