Every year after spring seeding is finished, there is an event which takes place that I have really grown to appreciate. I’m talking about the annual Farming For…Profit? Conference which is hosted in Moose Jaw by Dr. Andy Schmitz. This was the 21st such conference and the theme was “Can the agriculture sector compete with the natural resource sector?” I enjoy the opportunity to attend this conference and in the last few years, have had the privilege of being a presenter and attendee.
This is one of the few opportunities that are around anymore for agricultural producers to join together with the agricultural academic community, various people from industry and individuals from all over North America who interact with the business of agriculture. Make no mistake about it….agriculture and agri-business is a big part of our economy – Canada’s economy and influences events around the world because that is how we feed ourselves.
This year I had the privilege of listening to topics relating to the beef industry, small equipment manufacturing, the role of producer involvement in plant breeding and the future of farmer-directed crop selection. There were good presentations on the growing hemp industry and the role of organic production and food in our society today. The biggest draw of the conference and one very dear to my heart and to my pocketbook was the discussions around the mess in transportation and the effects it is having on grain handling, marketing of all agricultural commodities and now that we are in the mess, what potential solutions have been presented.
One of the things that I appreciate about Andy’s conferences and this was the 21st such event is that there is always a wide diversity of opinion and often quite heated debates amongst individuals who come with strong feelings one way or another on their particular point of view. Unlike most people who seem to be in both the federal and provincial governments today, at Andy’s conferences, everybody seem to relax afterwards, share a refreshment and have an honest exchange of ideas and potential solutions after the formal presentations are done.
Very seldom is the school of agriculture and the academics who support it at the University of Saskatchewan are called upon to help with our problem solving in today’s agricultural world. Increasingly, it seems that ideology outweighs practicality in our problem solving and increasingly, there is a belief set amongst some that big business is the only way that we can come up with better solutions. Quit frankly I find this approach to be appalling for its lack of creativity and its understanding of the needs of individual producers.
After listening to many presentations coming from many different angles on the transportation issues, there is a consensus that this mess has cost western Canadians at least $4.5 billion and that at least $2.5 billion of that has been lost to Saskatchewan because we can’t move our products to market on time. It is hard to imagine a loss of this size and yet little on-going effort by our provincial government to do something constructive about a solution to the problem because the problem is not going to go away any time soon.
The special crop sector which includes our pulse industry could have one of the roughest 12 months that they have seen in a long time because of the inability of the transportation system to move products which have very specific marketing windows and the inability to hedge risk like some of the other major crops do. This industry is spread all across Saskatchewan, is a major employer in many areas and in many cases, is one of the mainstays of a community. This sector must have the ability to move its products not only east and west but also north and south and because in some cases is more perishable than grains, timely delivery is of the essence. Such a sector deserves the support and attention of our government.
I am sure there will be the opportunity to comment in the coming weeks on other discussions that I had at this conference and have the efforts that the PC Party have made in trying to influence solutions for the benefit of our province on this issue and others. I’ve always believed that people in this province, if they get together and have good information on hand, can solve their own problems and do it in a manner that benefits us all. We simply can’t afford another year like this where we allow losses of this kind to our economy and our society without putting up a better fight than what we have seen over the last winter and spring. We deserve better in this province.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.