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Lots Of Heat, Not Much Light

There was a little heat but not much light from the five candidates who squared off in the two-hour debate on agricultural issues hosted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture April 11.

Despite his recent remarks in Minnedosa about letting farmers decide the future of the Canadian Wheat Board, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz reiterated the familiar pledge of giving Prairie farmers the freedom to be just like everybody else.

He also told his fellow candidates that, as the only farmer on the panel, he’s the only one who speaks with any credibility. Apparently Green Party candidate Kate Storey, who farms in the Grandview area, doesn’t count – although it’s not clear whether it is because she is an organic farmer or because of her political affiliation. Neither apparently, do the opinions of people who buy what farmers produce.

While farmers listening to the debate wouldn’t have heard much new, perhaps the real story is that it wasn’t just farmers tuning in.

Agriculture and food are making society’s broader agenda. That’s the good news. It’s also the bad news, because that interest is generating questions that challenge conventional thinking in agriculture.

Those of us in agricultural journalism have long bemoaned the gradual disappearance of ag reporters at major Canadian dailies and electronic media. The daily farm broadcasts and regular coverage of agricultural news has been relegated either to business or general news sections. Like farmers, we’ve complained that the only farm stories to get much play tend to be disasters such as a drought, or freaks such as the proverbial three-headed calf.

No longer. Food and agriculture are now mainstream. The nationalGlobe and Mailnow has a global food reporter, a position that takes a much broader view of agricultural issues than just what’s happening down on the farm. She noted in a story April 10 that all parties have, for perhaps the first time, included some form of national food strategies in their election platforms, not just help for ailing farmers.

This is a shift that farmers should recognize. Future policies are likely to become less “farm-centric.” Two days after the ag debate, theGlobereported on aCanadian Medical Association Journal editorial raising concerns about Canadian food safety.

It’s not just “farm” anymore. It’s “farm and food.” Farm leaders will increasingly be called upon to articulate why policies proposed to help farmers are also good for the rest of Canada.

Take The Long Way Around

Our hearts go out to the family of Raymond Stott who lost his life after flood currents swept his vehicle off the road into deep waters from which he could not escape.

And our hats go off to his brother Gary for publicly explaining the details of what his family believes happened, in the hopes that someone else might be spared.

When confronted with water crossing a secondary road near his Niverville-area home, Mr. Stott apparently made a mistake many of us might make under similar circumstances. Not realizing how much of the road had washed away and underestimating the current, he attempted to cross.

Gordon Giesbrecht, the University of Manitoba researcher who is an expert in cold-weather, cold-water situations, notes that a vehicle can float in as little as 18 inches of water. Once afloat, the vehicle is carried into deeper waters by the current. Once a vehicle is submerged, the occupants have seconds to break their way out and take their chances in the icy waters.

There are an unprecedented number of highways and municipal roads across the province that are compromised by flooding this year – and as we now know, the damage may not always be obvious.

Floods happen in Manitoba. So do blizzards, and severe thunderstorms. We expect them. We recognize they can be hazardous. But our subconscious drivers prompt us to continue with our routines and plans for travel in spite of the risk.

So even when the expected happens, we get caught. Despite more than 24 hours’ notice that it was coming, there was an estimated 300 motorists stranded in their vehicles overnight in the March 11 blizzard. People continued to drive out into the darkness and swirling snow, many of them ill prepared for the long night ahead of them.

Safety, whether it’s on the farm, or on the road, is the result of conscious decisions to break the routine if circumstances warrant.

The experts offer advice about what to do if your vehicle ends up in the water. There are tips and tools for escaping from your seatbelt and breaking out the window. But who helps you decide which child to grab and take with you as you exit?

If you come to a flooded-out section of road in your travels this spring, stop. Put the car into reverse, find a safe place to turn around and take the long way around. [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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