May 19, 2019

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Opinion

Helping farmers a complicated task

Brandon Sun Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler makes his remarks at the opening of the $500,000 Manitoba Beef & Forage Initiatives Learning Centre at the MBFI Brookdale Farm north of Brandon on Tuesday morning. (Matt Goerzen / The Brandon Sun)</p></p>

Brandon Sun Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler makes his remarks at the opening of the $500,000 Manitoba Beef & Forage Initiatives Learning Centre at the MBFI Brookdale Farm north of Brandon on Tuesday morning. (Matt Goerzen / The Brandon Sun)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/8/2018 (267 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

FORREST, MANITOBA — Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler didn’t mince words when he scrummed with reporters on the shady side of a brand-new learning centre at the Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives’ (MBFI) research farm on Tuesday.

Yes, there are concerns about livestock feed shortages with no end in sight to the hottest and driest summer in memory. The province is getting daily reports from officials throughout the most-affected regions, where department staff are helping connect producers who need feed with those who might have some to spare.

There are reports of herd liquidations and an early start to the fall calf run, when producers wean calves from the cows and send them off to the auction mart. Pastures throughout the province are crispy dry and many producers have started supplemental feeding.

Eichler said he hoped the situation wouldn’t set back the growth in the province’s cow herd in recent years. But beyond gathering information and monitoring the situation, Eichler said there are no plans at this time for government interventions, such as feed freight assistance. (That all changed on Friday; see sidebar).

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/8/2018 (267 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

FORREST, MANITOBA — Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler didn’t mince words when he scrummed with reporters on the shady side of a brand-new learning centre at the Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives’ (MBFI) research farm on Tuesday.

Yes, there are concerns about livestock feed shortages with no end in sight to the hottest and driest summer in memory. The province is getting daily reports from officials throughout the most-affected regions, where department staff are helping connect producers who need feed with those who might have some to spare.

There are reports of herd liquidations and an early start to the fall calf run, when producers wean calves from the cows and send them off to the auction mart. Pastures throughout the province are crispy dry and many producers have started supplemental feeding.

Eichler said he hoped the situation wouldn’t set back the growth in the province’s cow herd in recent years. But beyond gathering information and monitoring the situation, Eichler said there are no plans at this time for government interventions, such as feed freight assistance. (That all changed on Friday; see sidebar).

As he rightly points out, such programs aren’t very effective at helping producers in need, because as soon as governments step in with support, the price of feed and trucking costs also rise.

However, Eichler’s position is symbolic of the dilemma facing governments in times like these.

Governments have in the past given in to pressure to help producers cope with unusual disasters, with both ad hoc and long-term, cost-shared business risk-management programs.

But what if conditions similar to what producers across the country are experiencing this summer are actually the new norm? The sporadic nature of rainfall is consistent with what the climate change models have been predicting.

Governments are stepping back and re-evaluating the role they have in helping farmers manage risk — even to the point of changing the language and re-framing the conversation.

A case in point was Eichler’s response when asked if Manitoba is having a drought.

"I wouldn’t call it a drought. I’d call it climate change," Eichler told reporters.

In that vein, a far more practical approach for government is to invest in research and extension that helps producers build more resilience for their farm operations.

That’s what brought Eichler to this 640-acre research farm just north of Brandon this week, cutting the ribbon on a new facility that will provide extension support to producers as well as public outreach to non-farmers.

Ramona Blyth, a cattle producer from the MacGregor area who heads of the centre’s board of directors, said the farm is big enough that producers can have confidence that the research conducted here is scalable to their operations. Too often, producers are expected to base their decisions on data collected from micro-managed plots.

Governments and private sector groups have committed nearly $5 million to this initiative to study and enhance the ability of grasslands and grazing to improve producers’ bottom lines and protect the environment. It’s becoming a hub for multidisciplinary research that looks at everything from extended grazing strategies and new forage crops to soil and water health.

The newly opened classroom will help get new ideas into the average producers’ operations, but also help with public outreach.

Cattle are getting a bum rap these days in the mainstream press, yet ruminants have always been an integral part of the Prairie landscape. Their presence in commercial agriculture has meant more land left in grasses, which benefits wildlife, water quality and soil-carbon equation.

It’s only fitting that the Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives is built on what was previously a research farm devoted to better understanding zero tillage, the practice of annual cropping without cultivation. When the Manitoba Zero Tillage Research Association wound down its operations, it not only sold the farm to MBFI, it donated $50,000.

Besides the federal and provincial governments, this project’s partners include Manitoba Beef Producers, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association. It has also tapped into funds from Farm Credit Canada, DLF Pickseed and Federated Co-operatives Ltd. All see value in the work an initiative like this can do.

Hopefully producers will too.

Laura Rance is editorial director at Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or lrance@farmmedia.com

Laura Rance

Laura Rance
Columnist

Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.

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