Farmer worries about losing public relations battle

Lake Friendly label one solution | Program would help Manitoba farmers assure consumers they care for the environment

Dan Mazier wasn’t looking for trouble when he walked into a downtown Brandon coffee shop this fall.

When the Brandon-area farmer ordered coffee, the server asked about the Lake Friendly button on his jacket.

Mazier, who is vice-president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, ex-plained it is a program for all Manitoba residents, including farmers, who want to protect and preserve the water quality of Lake Winnipeg.

“Oh. Farmers. They put pesticides in the rivers and they contaminate our environment, so they wouldn’t want to be (part of) that,” Mazier said, recalling the waitresses’ comment.

“That just blew me away. I didn’t even tell her that I farm.”

Mazier said he was tempted to throw hot, brown liquid at the server in the heat of the moment, but after calming down, he realized such comments show that farmers are in a public relations battle for the hearts and minds of urban residents.

“We’re inundated with statements like that … and we have nothing (to) demonstrate how we’re doing the right things.”

With that in mind, KAP is collaborating with Lake Friendly leaders to establish a certification system for agriculture. Producers who adhere to practices that protect Manitoba’s streams, rivers and lakes can erect a sign on their farm. As well, agricultural products from their farms could receive a Lake Friendly label.

At the very least, the program allows producers to say agriculture is part of the solution and it might change the urban narrative, Mazier said.

“If you look at how commercial farming is portrayed … organic is good and commercial is bad,” he said.

“Farmers, the majority of them, want to do the right thing and want to be given the tools (to do the right thing).”

Massive algal blooms began forming on Lake Winnipeg in the mid-2000s, and the green water that crashed onto the lake’s beaches provoked media reports of a dying lake and public fury. In response, the provincial government imposed strict restrictions on hog barn development and fertilizer application, pointing a finger of blame at agriculture.

KAP president Doug Chorney said the lake crisis and the government response scarred agriculture’s reputation.

“I think a lot of damage has been done to our social license,” he said.

“That’s our whole impetus for our desire to go for the Lake Friendly alliance.”

Colleen Sklar, executive director of Lake Friendly, said the organization is still developing a designation-certification program for farmers who adopt practices that preserve water quality.

“We’re getting a little bit closer, but what we’re really looking for right now is partners,” she said from her office in Clandeboye, Man.

“We’ve been in talks with different groups: the pork producers, we’ve been in talks with Agrium and a whole bunch of organizations like that.”

In the short run, Sklar said she is focused on building the Lake Friendly brand. Consumers won’t seek out products with a Lake Friendly label or understand how farmers are making a difference if they aren’t aware of the brand.

“We’re in the process of trying to develop a full-scale marketing campaign,” she said.

“If we can get the funding for it, we will be (launching) it this summer…. We’re trying to do (this) methodically and do it right the first time.”

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  1. THE FIRST STEP in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.
    Then do the planning, and take action to eliminate that problem.

    Manitoba’s Phosphorus Contribution to Lake Winnipeg.
    Source: Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board. January 2005/ Interim Report

    Agriculture in Manitoba………… 35%
    From the City of Winnipeg…….. 15%
    From the Atmosphere…………… 17%
    Municipal and Industrial discharges
    within Manitoba…………………… 9%
    Natural Watershed Runoff
    within Manitoba………………….. 24%

    In my estimation there has been very little, if any, progress made to really help Lake Winnipeg, other than ignoring the warnings presented 40 years ago by Professors, John Vallentyne and David W. Schindler as published in the book….The Algal Bowl.

    Is it too Late to Save Lake Winnipeg.? That is the question on my mind. The JenPeg development project goes way back to 1958. There was a Canada and Manitoba agreement to jointly undertake the development of this hydro electrical potential. It was signed in 1966 by the Conservative Premier, Sir Raymond Roblin. Construction began in 1972 and was completed in 1979. The causeway installation at Hecla Island was completed in the early 1970′s under the NDP government. I am aware that grave concerns were raised during both developments as to how they would affect the state and natural water flow of Lake Winnipeg.

    Of course, these were important undertakings and the concerns that were being voiced were put aside and well…ignored. The government experts and their scientists knew better. The people who knew the lake, and there were scientists among them, were ridiculed for their opposition and opinions.

    Now, some 40 years later, we can point out, who is responsible and what is to blame.

    But none of that will help Lake Winnipeg in it’s recovery. And that is why, I have to ask: Is it Too Late to Save Lake Winnipeg?

    The wake up calls and bells have been ringing for years. Is government “finally” going to remove their ear plugs and get on with what needs to be done?

  2. I agree with the waitress. I’m from Sask. and most farmers I talk to don’t even acknowledge that farm chemicals are harmful in any way. Most see GMO seeds, sprayed chemicals and artificial fertilizers as the only way (to make money). I buy ONLY organic, usually at farmers markets and never support stores like Safeway that pay big money to hide GMO products from the public.

  3. Wasn’t the Manitoba govt paying farmers (providing incentives)to dig in drainage pipes into their fields, thus increasing high nutrient runoff and destroying the wetlands that act as a filter for the lakes? 20 years later we all find out that that was not the best thing to do.

    Let politicians and manager types set the rules and that is what u get. Hmmmm I wonder why there is distrust of Ag? Less farmers, the farmers that are still farming are aggressive businessmen, and are being represented by chemical companies. People’s impression of farmers is perpetuated by chemical companies.

    If all farmers would work toward working together with nature more rather than fighting it , chemically and genetically ,our urban neighbours may understand us and identify with us more as people rather than being connected to a particular political party or large company. Urban people are not stupid just because they disagree with us.

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