Daryl Domitruk, Executive Director, MPSG – Fall/Winter (December) Pulse Beat 2021
I AM PLEASED to report neither drought nor pandemic could prevent Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG) from accomplishing another successful field season. The efforts of our agronomists backed up by our dedicated office staff helped keep member services on par with previous years. In fact, the drought revealed so many unusual aspects of pulse and soybean growth we were busier than ever recording and assessing the range of crop responses. 2021 will be seen as the year of learning new things. All told, MPSG staff walked about 210 fields across the province. The support and interest we received from members was fantastic.
In our many conversations with media, we’ve remarked how yields in 2021 met expectations on the low end but exceeded expectations on the high end. Soybeans especially proved to be more resilient than we first imagined. At least, more responsive than we anticipated to the smallest amount of rain during pod fill. The rain came too late for many dry bean crops. Peas seemed to be hit hardest, which is ironic because they are a go-to crop when it’s dry.
One very interesting set of late-fall observations was the high amount of residual N in many soils. Information on the anticipated effect on next season’s annual legume productivity will be extended throughout the winter.
Megan Bourns, our On-Farm Network Agronomist, is departing MPSG (and departing Canada) to undertake a PhD at Kansas State University. In the three seasons Megan has piloted the On-Farm Network, she added immensely to the scope and efficiency of on-farm testing in Manitoba. Her approach to communications and grower engagement set the tone for our future plans to extend on-farm test results to members. There’s no question the ag research community will be hearing a lot from Megan in the future.
Toban Dyck isn’t going anywhere, but we’ve adjusted his responsibilities, nonetheless. Toban has relinquished his duties as overall communications director to focus on editing Pulse Beat and helping MPSG connect with growers. He is doing so under contract with MPSG. The rest of Toban’s time will be spent farming, providing consulting services and freelance writing. It’s great to see his stock rise with some national publications and consultancies.
IMPROVEMENTS WITH CHECK-OFF ADMINISTRATION
Check-off refunds are a reality of this business. Improvements initiated by our administration group this year are already paying dividends in a more efficient and cost-effective refund process. New software is adding tracking capabilities and the move to direct deposit has almost eliminated the cost of physical cheques.
PUBLICATION SCHEDULE CHANGE
Pulse Beat has been at the centre of MPSG’s outreach program since Day One. It remains so even though the mediums through which farmers receive information have expanded. It takes a lot to produce Pulse Beat, including much staff time.
We’ve tasked staff to spend more time in fields and talking with farmers across the province. More time in the field puts the squeeze on time in the writer’s chair. So, we’ve made the decision to substitute the June edition of Pulse Beat with a communication to growers that is easier and less costly to produce at that time of year. And, frankly, one that is more likely to be looked at by growers after a hectic seeding and spraying season. Members can also look for us to be experimenting with The Science Edition concept. The nitty-gritty of where most check-off dollars go — research — is great fodder for creative approaches to extension.
MIXED MEDIA MEETINGS
It appears the February annual general meeting will be a hybrid affair in keeping with the anticipated restrictions on crowd size at CropConnect. As it sits, members can join the AGM in-person or via a virtual link. Stay tuned.
Overall, the pandemic move to remote meetings has had a silver lining. As we became better at meeting virtually, the cost of committee meetings fell substantially. As well, online meetings had to be shorter, so they became structured to make more efficient use of directors’ time.
Nevertheless, we are taking advantage of pandemic rules that enable limited in-person meetings and hope to hold board meetings again in person. To operate effectively in a virtual or hybrid setting, we must acquire skills in mixed media conversations. It seems worth the effort, pandemic or not.
In the last issue, I described how MPSG is approaching policy work. It’s a certainty that farmers must do more to independently develop and articulate coherent policy positions. However, farmers also have another job. These days governments and other influential entities need help in understanding contemporary farming practices. Moreover, they need guidance as to how broader socio-economic priorities factor (or not) into choices made by farmers as they go about their business. Farm organizations’ new role has become to mentor decision-makers; help them navigate their way through what, for most, is the unfamiliar territory of farming practice.
Climate change has taken us into a critical time of policy formation. Those tasked with developing mitigation and adaptation strategies must be drawn away from using foodie pop culture as a source of inspiration. Meaningful solutions will be both practical for farmers and effective against emissions. Not one or the other. This is tough and will take time. Mentoring of decision-makers can’t happen fast enough.
Fortunately, Pulse Canada is developing meaningful and defendable climate change options that have enough practical credibility they just might gain traction on the farm. Read about these in this magazine. The strength of Pulse Canada’s approach is that it places the farm in the context of a business. The right choices made by independent farm business people will take us forward. The right choices require the emergence of practical climate options — the kind MPSG and its partners are pursuing.
GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS AND FUNDING
Ag groups across Canada are also occupied with ensuring the next round of five-year government programs are up to the challenges of contemporary farming. The new program is slated to begin in April 2023. Groups in Manitoba are united in placing research at the top of the list (business risk management programs have their own list). Independently, MPSG has cautioned the province to avoid overloading the next program with expectations. While the list of needs has grown with the big issues facing farming, a corresponding increase in government funding isn’t on the table. So, instead of loading up the program with pay-to-play services, governments should rebuild their internal capacity to support the sector in key day-to-day areas and leave the five-year programs to advance strategic goals only.
The fourth quarter of 2021 feels a bit strange. It’s an unusual mixture of relief, trepidation, hope and anxiety. For the crops sector, the drought was bad but could have been worse. People are again out and about, sort of. Farm shows are on, sort of. The economy is rebounding, sort of. Fertilizer is really expensive, for sure. Much of our immediate future hangs on the effects of La Niña, maritime ship operators and China. Hopefully, there’s wisdom that comes to an organization that embraces the challenges of instability and seeks to thrive.