Manitoba Farmers Get Climate Change

By: Duncan Morrison

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2015 A9

When climate experts such as Danny Blair of the University of Winnipeg predict the not-so-distant future may bring temperatures to Manitoba that will be similar to north Texas's climate today, Manitoba farmers sit up and listen very, very closely.

This scenario causes a great deal of concern, inward reflection and a communal want by farmers to pitch in and do their own part.

It is from this position that I read Stephen Busilla's letter to the editor (Agriculture's carbon footprint, Dec. 11), which was a broad-brush carbon missive on agriculture. I do fully agree that agriculture is a key part of the climate change discussion. I do not pretend to speak for larger agricultural operations on our landscapes; they are indeed here and must be factored into the necessary sustainable equation for our ag lands. However, I can speak a bit to Mr. Busilla's concerns from the many individual agricultural producers and the sustainably minded agriculture groups of Manitoba that our producers belong to, strategize with and collaborate as part of.

I encourage Mr. Busilla and others to learn more about agriculture and climate change in our province. Manitoba's position, grasslands and soils found within the heart of the great plains of North America naturally position agriculture as our economy's driving force. It's not going anywhere. I robustly concur we all must respect the global situation and what we all can do to positively influence it. Our organization, the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association is well aware of climate change and the role our crops and grasses play in carbon storage. We were thrilled recently to be included in the province's climate change action plan as we, too, see forages and grasslands as a solution to climate issues.

On philosophy and business, the association naturally aligns with Manitoba Beef Producers who use forage and pastures extensively. Beef producers are inherently aware of the stated concerns around cattle production and, here in Manitoba and nationally, are aggressively and determinedly searching for and implementing solutions on many climate-beneftting fronts, from diet to grazing systems.

On the other oft-overlooked hand, as a prerequisite, cows need grass and water. Grasses store carbon, and like many other forms of vegetation, naturally work to improve water quality, help slow moving water and offer valuable wildlife habitat. The vast public good done for the environment from the private and Crown lands where cattle producers operate is not often heralded and rarely acknowledged.

As a whole, many agricultural producers attend conferences where they learn the latest about sustainable practices.

Sustainability is not just on the cusp of their radar, sustainability and how Manitoba farmers do business and can continue to do business in a rapidly changing world is omnipresent at these gatherings. At many of these, sustainability is the main -- sometimes only -- theme and the bulk of delegates -- the Assiniboine River Basin Initiative and Manitoba Conservation Districts Association come immediately to mind -- are farmers, industry representatives and government and municipal leaders. Main topics and keynote speakers always include the latest about water, soil and climate issues.

Our agricultural groups also work closely with carbon- and plant-research experts from governments and universities. Many have farming backgrounds that shaped their career paths. Farmer-based groups also accept the wisdom of conservation-minded experts about how the natural world can be harmonized with agricultural land in Manitoba, especially on marginal soils and, as an exact local example, increasingly to benefit Lake Winnipeg.

In fact, farm-policy organization Keystone Agricultural Producers is a key player at the table when it comes to the province's wetland-policy discussions that were accelerated because of concerns around the health of Lake Winnipeg. The Lake Friendly Stewardship Alliance is made up of agricultural, government and conservation interests. There is an agricultural task force on climate change. And on and on and on it goes: farm groups and leaders are in the mix talking about solutions, pushing solutions, testing solutions and implementing solutions.

The farmers and producers of Manitoba are very much aware of the times ahead of us. They are the ones who deal with floods and droughts while still needing to run their businesses and put food on the table for their families. The positive news is, among a collective group of other key leaders and stakeholders, they're working on tangible solutions for everyone's benefit. It's not perfect -- none of us lives in a perfect world -- but these are good, solid and necessary steps that will stand to benefit society.


Duncan Morrison is the executive director of the Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2015 A9