Minister says Manitoba agriculture sector on track for a solid 2015

by Jim Bray

WINNIPEG, Man. – By the time you read this, the 2015 harvest in Manitoba will have come and gone, capping what the province’s agriculture, food and rural development minister said has been a relatively standard and straightforward year, though not one without its issues.

“We have certain pockets that have gone through some pretty challenging times,” Minister Ron Kostyshyn told Truck West, noting that earlier this year there was frost in some areas that doesn’t usually worry about such things.

Fortunately, Kostyshyn said, “The reseeded crops have actually turned out fairly well based on the latest report. We have the right amount of moisture, maybe some places not enough, but overall I think the cereal crops have done well.”

He said the harvest was about 95% complete overall across Manitoba as of mid-October, with oats, barley and canola leading the way, followed by the flax and soybean harvest, sunflowers and, lagging behind the other commodities making its way to market, the grain corn harvest.

The bad, or at least not as good, news is that “in certain areas, the overall forage production (feed for livestock) is considerably lower than normal years, probably due to a combination of the frost and a lack of moisture in certain areas,” Kostyshyn said. Traditionally, forage and hay “love to have excess moisture in the spring so it gets a good start,” he said, “and…the forage has been a little less than normal – not across the entire province of Manitoba but in some areas.”

Prices, Kostyshyn said, have remained “relatively comfortable for producers, and that’s always the challenge when you have a good yield; a lot depends on the commodity prices.”

On the livestock side of the ledger, things are definitely looking up after about 10 years of angst over BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy – popularly known as mad cow disease).

“In the beef sector…the (BSE) hangover still continues, but the price has recovered very comfortably and it’s hopefully payback time for the producers who suffered,” Kostyshyn said.

The minister said he’s heard from constituents recently that “they’re getting prices about the same as they received last year on marketing calves in the five to seven hundred pound range, but overall, I think the beef producers are very pleased with the returns they’re getting on their investments and the hard work that they do.”

Getting all these products to market means there should be good days for the trucking companies that haul the livestock to feed lots, not only in Manitoba, but also in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the United States.

Kostyshyn said it’s a welcome break for them as well.

“When the BSE hit, unfortunately, a lot of the trucking individuals had to get out of it because the numbers of animals dropped and the movement of animals dropped, so the (number of) truckers in the livestock sector had to decrease.”

That was then, however. Now, the minister said, “I’m starting to see some new trucks on the road, so that’s a good sign.”

A possible fly in the ointment is an apparent trend in the industry toward lower breeding counts.

“The breeding numbers that I was hearing in Canada were at the 1960s (level),” Kostyshyn said. “The US is much similar, so supply and demand will trigger deceleration of price barring an outbreak of some sort, which we don’t ever want to hear again.”

The reason for the slump may be, at least in part, that demand for some meat may be moderating.

“Maybe consumption on a regular basis has dropped a bit and gone to an alternative type of meat source – such as chicken or turkey versus pork or beef,” Kostyshyn said, “but I don’t think I would say it’s a warning.”

The province isn’t planning any fancy new marketing campaigns to convince consumers to chew more Manitoba meat, but that doesn’t mean the province is sitting on its hands.

“We’re always working with industry, whether it be the trucking industry (or) the farm organizations,” Kostyshyn said. “We’re kind of the centregoo of the hub, and we work with all different departments and organizations that are directly and indirectly linked into agriculture. We are forever looking for opportunities to expand and add value in the industry and we continue to be focused on that.”

Kostyshyn praised the trucking industry for the great job it does in helping get Manitoba’s product to its eventual consumers.

“You see a lot of trucks on the road,” he said, “and to those who do the due diligence as far as workplace safety and the like, I think they’re doing an excellent job.”

The minister also claimed the province has a good working relationship the Manitoba Trucking Association and predicted that the influence of the trucking industry would continue to grow.

“We have rail lines that exist to service the grain sector,” he said, “and in certain areas the rail has somewhat been removed and the (slack is picked up by the trucking industry), which is a very key part of the logistics in the agriculture sector.”

The minister also noted that the Province has made a commitment to invest $5 billion to help facilitate the movement of goods.

“The (Trans-Canada Highway) and a number of the main artery highways are being resurfaced,” Kostyshyn said, “and we continue to work on the road infrastructure – because if you’ve got reasonably good infrastructure, it makes life a lot easier for the truckers who go down these roads. We’re very committed.”

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