Daryl Domitruk, Executive Director, MPSG – Summer (June) 2021 Pulse Beat
AS OUR COMMUNICATIONS director, Toban Dyck, outlines in the opening pages of this edition of Pulse Beat, activities often labelled as policy have acquired space on our calendar. That’s not to say we’ve diminished our focus on core programs in research, extension and market development. After all, Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG) is not a policy organization.
Wisely, however, the MPSG board of directors recognize our core activities are made possible by certain policies. The policy of governments to support research, for example. Taking advantage of this policy, we fund research to stimulate improvements to farmers’ production and marketing of pulses and soybeans.
Policy exists on local, provincial, national and global scales. Picking the scale of policy MPSG is best equipped to influence is the first step. Secondly, we need to be prepared to support organizations addressing policy at other levels. Finally, recalling that the reason we step into policy is to improve our core programs, we must carve a role we can fill with the skills and resources we have.
MPSG’s most valuable contribution in this space is interpreting how global, national and provincial policies might affect crops and farmers at the local level. Our role isn’t to form policy but rather to explain the technical sides of our industry through a Manitoba lens that contributes to a constructive critique of policy options. With a policy committee up and running and some well-practiced virtual meeting skills, MPSG’s policy effort is working its way into weekly activities.
The province has developed a policy to grow the protein industry. Of course, our crops already figure prominently in this opportunity. Throughout these discussions, MPSG emphasized the challenges to be overcome to sustain the production of peas and soybeans. The fact there is but one dedicated pulse crop researcher in Manitoba speaks to one of the challenges we are seeking to address.
BUSINESS RISK MANAGEMENT
MPSG, together with its sister organizations in Manitoba, were consulted by the Minister of Agriculture and Resource Development regarding business risk management (BRM). The focus was AgriStability. Ultimately, governments agreed to remove the reference margin limit. Soon we will be engaged with the province on renewed BRM programs to begin in 2023.
When it comes to BRM, numbers matter. Commodity groups do not typically have the capacity to analyze BRM options for government. Instead, we look to government to provide that analysis. This puts us on the sidelines of these discussions. If Manitoba growers want independent or original analysis, that capacity will have to be developed.
MANITOBA AGRICULTURAL SERVICES CORPORATION
Each year, MPSG meets with the board and management of Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC). This year, again, there was open dialogue regarding trends in the insurance industry and agriculture. Research supported by MPSG has better determined the cost/ benefit of different seeding dates, as well as more precisely documenting the effect of hail on soybean yield. Such projects are intended to provide MASC with data to support making their insurance products more accessible for pulse and soybean growers. MPSG raised the issue of reseeding coverage in an era of increasing seed costs. With soybean seed at the high end of the cost scale, it’s important for growers to have access to adequate coverage in the case of a reseed. We will continue to follow up on this issue.
KEYSTONE AG PRODUCERS
Participation on the Keystone Ag Producers (KAP) Advisory Council and its Grains, Oilseeds and Pulses sub- committee give us a window on local farm issues. In addition, MPSG supports special activities such as KAP’s reviews of Responsible Grain and the Canada Grains Act (more on those later). Overall, we feel we can offer KAP more based on our expertise in research, extension and market development. With KAP reviewing the role of commodity groups, we’re hopeful an efficient and productive form of mutual support and collaboration can be identified.
CONSULTATIONS AND REVIEWS
A formal review of the Canada Grains Act is underway. This is an example of national groups such as Pulse Canada (PC) and Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) taking the lead and of MPSG and other provincial groups functioning to ground- truth ideas. Growers are unified in demanding the preservation of producer protection in the case of grain buyer default. This pertains to clauses in the Act requiring buyers to post security and obtain a license — two issues close to the heart of the pulse industry.
The other hot topic is mandatory inspections of outbound shipments. Currently, container shipments are exempt. With containers being a primary method of shipping pulses, our industry suggests things remain as is. It’s interesting to hear from both sides as we have the fortune to hear from PC’s board members who represent grain buyers. Likewise, Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) staff has provided very helpful descriptions of the current Act and of the CGC’s method of administration. Of course, a look behind the scenes at CGC reminds us things are more complicated than they appear on the surface. Nevertheless, there’s confidence that by modernizing the Grains Act and providing the CGC with more flexibility to respond to a rapidly changing global grain industry, a regulatory system that works for farmers can be created.
The province’s policy of supporting regional Diversification Centres is also under review. Being a key part of MPSG’s research program, our organization has become directly involved in encouraging the continued operation of these centres. We will be engaging the government and each independent centre in discussions of new models for funding and conducting research.
The federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has an ongoing program of reviewing pesticide registrations. MPSG supports a regulatory system that maintains Canada’s access to the world’s safest and most effective crop protection products. At the same time, we hope to initiate a broader commitment to product stewardship so that key chemicals such as glyphosate and neonic seed treatments are not overused and can remain on the market well into the future. Knowledge is available to advance us toward this goal through improved pest targeting, genetic innovations and more independent thought on the part of growers.
CODE OF PRACTICE
Responsible Grain or the grain growers code of practice has drawn attention in the ag news and on social media. Another national initiative, the draft code, was scrutinized by MPSG and its sister pulse organizations under the coordination of Pulse Canada. We had additional input through GGC and a provincial perspective through KAP’s review process.
Around each table, there was strong agreement the draft code was rife with deficiencies. That point was driven home repeatedly as successive organizations and individuals across Canada examined the documents. Some groups publicly stated their opposition to the code. Even though early on MPSG fell into the majority camp opposing the draft code, we chose not to make a public statement preferring to encourage growers to have their say independent of the conclusions we had drawn. Indeed, farmer perspectives were clearly expressed in the review process.
Several lessons were learned. The code’s sponsor, the Roundtable for Sustainable Crops, will be deciding where, if anywhere, the code idea will go next. Rather than looking back, MPSG will glean lessons from Responsible Grain and move forward with research and market development work aimed at monetizing the social and environmental value embedded in every pulse and soybean crop. That should be grounds for good policy.
MORE AT MPSG
Administering check-off refunds is not a small task. Printing and mailing hard copy cheques is expensive. So, we’ve streamlined the process by moving to electronic deposits and purchasing new check-off management software. Now we can better track refunds by crop and location.
As with all businesses, MPSG continues to operate under a COVID-19 protocol. Administrative staff continue to work from home, as do field staff, who also take precautions while travelling around the province visiting farms and research centres.
With new management at Soy Canada, it’s a good time to move our partnership to a new level. We’ve enjoyed great relations with retiring Executive Director Ron Davidson. Under Davidson’s leadership, we’ve seen Manitoba’s profile increase among Canada’s soybean industry. As Brian Innes takes the reins, MPSG will set out to enhance the Manitoba angle on key files initiated by Davidson, including sustainability and market access.
Speaking of national groups, MPSG members should be aware our primary partners are Pulse Canada, Soy Canada and Grain Growers of Canada. We pay an annual membership to each organization. In all cases, the return has been excellent. It helps that some of our more seasoned and wise directors serve on these boards. Having our national partners looking out for our interests lets us focus on our core business at home in Manitoba.
MPSG jointly funds a project at the University of Manitoba where agribusiness students take on internships with grower groups to study a particular topic of importance to that group. At a recent priority-setting meeting, we let students know about a range of questions our members would have. Among them are the ability of farmers to monetize sustainability, the financial return on public sector research specifically in Manitoba and how policies supporting value-added processing stack up in terms of benefits to farmers.
Assiniboine Community College is trying hard to enhance its agriculture teaching and applied research programs. The latter is a new emphasis and, given the very practical nature of the college’s plans for research, which could be a welcome addition for farmers in Westman. College leaders are campaigning for funds to renovate the North Hill campus in Brandon and have reached out to MPSG.
The 2021 provincial budget retained $3.0 million for research. There have been very significant changes to the organization of government services in agriculture. The budget reflected the realignment of workgroups to fit the newly combined mandate of agriculture and resource development. The announced office closures have gone ahead and several remaining locations are now off-limits to the public. Several staff are awaiting clarification of their role in the new department. We anticipate the exact services government has chosen to MPSG’s relationship with Roquette continues to advance. We are partners on several provincially-funded projects to improve pea production for Roquette and their farmer contractors. We’re gaining an understanding of their company and their regard for Manitoba. As Merit comes online, we look forward to cultivating a similar working relationship. We’re hoping that the success of these companies will attract more processing to Manitoba.
Growers of pulses and soybeans play a significant role in the province’s strategy for sustainable protein. A recent talk bya United Nations official outlined how countries have defined sustainability to include carbon, water, worker health and equality. Tall orders to package into a simple legume. Manitoba growers can do it, but what will be the return?
Have a great, safe growing season!