Laura Rance

  • Prairie agriculture industry faces a growing shortage of good help

    There was a time on Prairie farms when having large families was about more than long, cold winters, no television and abstinence as the only reliable form of birth control. Children have historically been an important source of labour on the farm, enlisted from an early age to help out with the multiple tasks that went into day-to-day operations. And when those kids grew up, those who left the farm often went on to fill jobs in the agricultural service sector, working in grain-handling and marketing, financial services, meat processing, or in fertilizer, herbicide or livestock supply.
  • Wheat prices taking hit with or without CWB

    Some have likened the abrupt removal of the Canadian Wheat Board's single-desk monopoly in August 2012 to throwing a stick of dynamite under the Western grain marketing system and expecting all the pieces to fall neatly back into place. Well, they didn't.
  • Small-scale farms can beat the odds

    There are many knowledgeable and respected experts who would write off the small-scale farmers as inefficient and incapable of feeding themselves, let alone feeding the world. People like Shenggen Fan, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., who identifies closely with the 84 per cent of the world's 570 million farmers who survive on five acres or less.
  • COOL win still not a victory

    Canadian livestock producers won something to crow about but little else in the latest World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling to support their claim that U.S. meat-labelling rules are unfair and discriminatory. It appears Canada will soon have the authority to impose $1 billion in tariffs on a long list of products we import from our bad neighbour.
  • Ebola already a First World crisis

    Those who worry about the deadly Ebola virus becoming a First World problem received a blunt reality check from speakers at the recent World Food Prize/Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this month. It already is, and not only because of the isolated cases that have surfaced outside of the three West African countries most affected.
  • Farmers face dilemma in buying CWB

    Short of bad weather and funerals, there isn't much that would convince farmers to leave their fields and head to town in the middle of a long, drawn-out harvest like this year's. Add the possibility of investing in their own grain company to the list.
  • Grain backlog a crisis Ottawa has yet to solve

    As reality checks go, the one Prairie farmers received from the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) recently was particularly galling. The CTA rejected a level-of-service complaint filed by the Canadian Canola Growers Association (CCGA) against both national railways over last winter's grain-transportation fiasco. The reason cited was lack of evidence.
  • Herbicide resistance a global food threat

    For decades, the experts have treated the growing problem of herbicide-resistant weeds as something solvable by the next new chemical or biological breakthrough. Now, more are stepping back and acknowledging it as a symptom of a much bigger issue in agriculture.
  • Better feed grains, better times for all

    One of the messy realities of agriculture is if grain and oilseed farmers are enjoying high prices, it's usually at the expense of livestock producers who have to pay more for feed. The availability of feed grains on the Prairies has historically been an accident of nature. Grain farmers grow varieties that are bred for the premium-priced milling and processing markets and only sell their crop as feed if it doesn't make the grade. In some years, like this one, there's lots of it around. In others, such as 2012, there isn't enough, and livestock feeders are forced to downsize their herds.
  • Cold and wet harvest season adds to producers' challenges

    When asked what they like about farming, many farmers will talk about the challenge and variety the job offers. If that's the case, Manitoba farmers must be having a heyday because getting this year's crop harvested is proving to be an extraordinary challenge amidst highly variable -- and worsening -- conditions.
  • Pork and potato processing needs overhaul

    When researchers with Brandon University's Rural Development Institute (RDI) took a snapshot of Manitoba's food and beverage processing sector as it was in 2011 and asked where it might be in 2020, some mixed messages surfaced. On the whole, the sector is a major contributor to the provincial economy, accounting for 28 per cent of all manufacturing revenue and 15 per cent of its exports.
  • 'New normal' may not be so normal, after all

    By any measure, the Prairie crop last year was an astounding production feat. Farmers grew 76 million tonnes, shattering previous records for most major crops. In all, it was 50 per cent higher than the five-year average and 30 per cent more than what farmers grew the previous year.
  • Protecting farmers a costly endeavour

    Years ago, I received a call from a farmer who wanted the newspaper's help in obtaining payment for a specialty crop he had sold to an independent buyer. There wasn't much I could do. There might have been news value in shaming a shady grain buyer, but if the problem was cash flow, publicity would only worsen the buyer's ability to pay. It was also apparent this buyer was operating under the table. He wasn't licensed or bonded with the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC), either because he qualified for an exemption, or because auditors hadn't caught up to him, yet.
  • Finding better ways to fight superweeds

    At a time when soil erosion is recognized as one of the biggest threats to the world's ability to continue feeding itself, it's disturbing to now see U.S. weed scientists suggesting tillage to address invading "superweeds." There is no question addressing the lengthening list of weeds that have developed resistance to glyphosate must be a top priority for researchers and extension agronomists advising conventional farmers.
  • Response to ag report misses the mark

    The final report to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada from a series of consumer focus groups it commissioned last year is enlightening, but not because of what it tells us about how domestic customers view this country's agriculture sector. Rather, it speaks volumes about the people asking the questions.
  • Lack of genetic diversity threat to livestock

    Anyone who has lived on or near a farmyard with chickens is well-aware of the rooster's ability to trumpet the arrival of morning long before the sun peeks over the horizon. But roosters have been delivering a wake-up call of a different sort lately -- sounding the alarm over the risks inherent with the increasingly narrow gene pool used in commercial agricultural production.
  • Inspecting crops with drones? It will happen

    Spoiler alert: This column contains important information many farmers will find seriously disappointing. Unmanned aerial vehicles are without a doubt the hottest new technology to hit the farm belt, and it's easy to see why.
  • No crystal ball needed to forecast tough year

    Call it what you will -- superstition, intuition or premonition. But even before they went to the fields last spring, Manitoba farmers knew 2014 would be a tough year in which to make a buck. Last year, many figured they were due for a reality check after 2012, when they enjoyed the rare combination of respectable yields and jolly good prices after blistering drought in the U.S. sent markets soaring. But there was more good news -- the bin-buster yields of 2013 surpassed all expectations to bring in a record harvest that was 50 per cent above average.
  • Fusarium showing up more in area cereal crops

    While farmers in western Manitoba are experiencing the sickening sight of fields they did manage to plant this spring drown in a sea of water, farmers across the rest of the province are confronting a scary sea of red. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives' weekly map showing the risk of fusarium head blight disease outbreaks in cereal crops has gone from a somewhat-concerning moderately green to an alarming bright red over the past 10 days.
  • Soggy spring more than just a drop in the bucket

    It will be weeks before the official unseeded-acreage count is in, but it's already known there are hundreds of thousands or acres that couldn't be planted this year. So what now? The official deadline to get a crop seeded and still be eligible for crop insurance coverage passed yesterday and farmers have until Monday to file an application to receive $50 per acre on land they couldn't to seed. That's so crop insurance officials can validate their claim it was too wet to plant.
  • Soil in tire treads can spread disease

    It's the season for making tracks in farming as producers scurry from field to field, tending their crops with tillage, seeding and spraying equipment. And with the cool, dampish spring we've had, it's almost inevitable that when farm equipment leaves a field, it will be carrying a certain amount of soil to the next one.
  • Retaining water a win-win in La Salle Redboine district

    Holland, Man. -- In a symbolic nod to the past, officials here used an old coal shovel to turn the sod May 30 on a project many see as a new future of renewable energy and improved water quality. After decades of failed attempts to drain a picturesque valley located about five kilometres southeast of Holland so farmers could use it for hay and pasture, local landowners working through the La Salle Redboine Conservation District have opted to turn it back to the cattails -- at least for now.
  • Time to free our farmers from producing cheap food

    Whenever modern agricultural practices come under fire, ag boosters typically trot out two time-worn defences -- our farmers have to feed the world, and farmers produce cheap food. It turns out increasing the productivity of small-scale farmers living in poverty -- most of whom are women -- improving market access and reducing waste will go further toward feeding the world than squeezing an extra few bushels per acre out of a Prairie farmer's wheat field -- and use fewer resources.
  • Bee colonies in the balance

    There's one item that's moved closer to the top of farmers' to-do lists as they head for their fields this summer -- be nice to bees. Protecting pollinators now ranks up there with protecting crops as new protocols known as best-management practices come into play for making sure insect- or disease-control products don't contribute to declining bee populations.
  • Chilly weather sows seeds of discontent

    With the farm equipment they have today, Manitoba farmers can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time -- weather permitting. But this year, the weather isn't. In a good year, seeding across the province would be more than half done by the time the cottagers head to the lake on the May long weekend. As of this week, seeding progress in most regions was at less than 10 per cent.

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