Farmers get some attention: Thank you CBC Manitoba and BMO

Hey, I know I’m a journalist and am expected to be snide and cynical, but I thought I should give a public thanks on your behalf to both CBC Manitoba and BMO for drawing some much-needed attention to farmers this week. Farmers are pretty easy to ignore these days, but this week both CBC and BMO treated the farm sector like it was both important and worth paying attention to.

Item #1: CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio – the morning show here – did an incredible job last year covering the flooding around Lake Manitoba and Portage La Prairie, and they haven’t forgotten all the people whose lives and farms are still wrecked by the aftermath of the massive floods that were plaguing the province one year ago. News attention is pretty fickle and there’s a danger that the public will forget all about the problems of the cattle producers around Lake Manitoba now the crisis is passed, but this week a number of CBC radio staffers were back out to the same places they went last year, talking to the same producers.

They have produced some pretty moving stories, today’s which you can listen to here. It’s the item called Drowning in Debt on the Shores of Lake Manitoba. CBC’s coverage has helped make the situation around the lake become political again, even though it’s the sort of thing that heavily-Winnipeg-skewed Manitoba politics could easily forget all about. It’s also not necessarily a natural thing for CBC to cover because it has a heavily urban audience and it costs lots of money and time to send crews out even just a couple of hundred kilometres away. Reporters and producers who stay in Winnipeg can cover multiple stories in a day. If you go off into farm country, you’re not getting more than one thing done. So it’s been good to see CBC throwing resources in giving voice to the plight of the cattle producers around Lake Winnipeg.

BMO should get praise too for simply treating agriculture the way it should be treated: as a vital and central sector of the national economy. Yesterday I was on a conference call with two BMO lenders – including their national ag lending manager – as well as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s president Ron Bonnett. BMO made a decision a few years ago to get heavily into the farm sector, even though many bankers have avoided it because of Farm Credit Canada’s presence, which some bankers see as unfair competition. But BMO has waded in deeply, offering ag-specific economic outlooks, and has made its analysts and lenders easily and quickly available to scribblers like me, which I appreciate greatly.

Farming shouldn’t be an odd thing for big banks to cover, because it is a massive and capital intensive industry, but it’s probably the least-acknowledged commodity sector in Canada among the financial types, or certainly the least acknowledged compared to its economic importance. Ag often gets left in a ghetto of its own, but things like uranium often get major billing. I imagine it’s more fun as a banker to lend a few hundred million dollars to a single uranium mine operator than it is to deal with thousands of farmers, all of whom have micro-sized accounts in comparison, but clearly there’s good business to be done there and it’s nice to see BMO do it and be willing to talk about it publicly.

 

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