Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ag optimism higher now than in decades: leader

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OPTIMISM among Manitoba farmers is at its highest level in decades, according to the head of Manitoba's largest farm-policy organization.

"I think the level of optimism in agriculture today is really unprecedented," Keystone Agriculture Producers president Doug Chorney told more than 100 delegates attending the group's 29th annual meeting Wednesday in Winnipeg. "It's been a really refreshing change."

The 48-year-old Chorney, who operates a grain farm near East Selkirk, said in a later interview grain prices are high and heading higher, cattle prices are good, and the global demand for agricultural products is rising rapidly.

He said things are even starting to look up for the province's beleaguered hog producers, whose ranks were devastated last year by a combination of soaring feed prices and plummeting hog prices.

He said hog prices are finally starting to improve, and a neighbour who was selling off his pigs last year in a bid to stem the financial bleeding is now restocking his barns. And he wouldn't be doing that if he didn't think things were getting better, Chorney added.

Bill Campbell, who has a grain and cattle farm near Minto, and Lorne Rossnagel, a grain and cattle producer from Plumas, agreed high grain prices have many farmers feeling optimistic these days.

"But it's a cautious optimism," Campbell said, noting farmers' fortunes can turn on a dime if weather conditions turn against them.

Rossnagel said soaring feed and fuel prices and low water levels in farm dugouts also have some farmers worried.

"And I wouldn't say the worst is over by any means (for hog producers," Rossnagel added. "They still have a long way to go."

Chorney admitted in his address to delegates the agriculture industry still faces some significant challenges. He also said hog prices are still too low, land prices are climbing, and the agriculture industry is going through tremendous changes, such as last year's shift to an open marketing system for Prairie-grown wheat and barley.

And Manitoba farmers still need some kind of payment-security program to protect them from losses incurred when a customer, such as a large commercial hog operation, goes out of business owing tens of thousands of dollars for grain or other commodities purchased from local farmers.

Stonewall hog farmer George Matheson also told the delegates local producers are still losing money. And he asked Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn, who was a guest speaker at Wednesday's session, about the status of a proposed $75-million provincial loan program for the producers.

Kostyshyn said the province hopes to make an announcement "shortly."

The minister said he'd also like to see hog producers and processors and the two senior levels of government come up with a long-term plan for protecting producers from future price drops.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2013 B6

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