One last post from the old ‘bux

On tumult in the ag trade and industry

This is the last blog post I’ll be writing from my preferred venue of the Starbucks in the base of one of Portage and Main’s towers.

I’ll still be blogging and blithering in this digital space on the internet, but this physical space in the core of Winnipeg’s and Canada’s grain business is disappearing on Friday, when I’m out visiting a farm.

It’s being closed as a lot of motion is taking place around Portage and Main and downtown Winnipeg, as well as in the Canadian grain trade, and it feels like a perfect metaphor through which to reminisce on the changes of the last 10 years, on tumult, change, loss and gain.

For it was almost ten years ago I began blogging almost exclusively from this place, which is only a three minute walk from where my office was located, behind another of Portage and Main’s corners.

For some reason I found my new and exciting blog, born in late 2008 as I returned to work from an eight month parental leave, to be impossible to write in the bunged-up conditions of my office. I needed to feel free and relaxed, and this newish Starbucks provided the perfect atmosphere. It had opened a year or two before that, but neither I nor the barista that I just chatted with could recall precisely when. Such is the way of memory and life.

From here I’ve blogged about a never-ending stream of agriculture and farm issues, from the worldwide economic crisis of 2008-09 (a favourite of mine), the despair and dismay in the hog industry due to cripplingly low profits, to Canada-U.S. trade troubles, to the (until 2011) never-ending war over the Canadian Wheat Board and the subsequent rise of a vibrant free market in wheat, barley and durum. I wrote about the revolutionary changes happening in derivatives markets and with futures exchanges, which were being swept up in a digital onslaught that was quickly breaking the hold century-old exchanges had over the trading of their particular commodities.

This place, these tables and wooden chairs, the comfy leatherish chairs, the windows looking out onto the towers of Portage and Main, have always seemed a natural place to be scribbling about these sorts of things. Right now I can see the big “R” on the Richardson Building, the headquarters of Canada’s most important grain company. Above me are the offices of Parrish and Heimbecker and Viterra – and it’s where Agricore United was once headquartered. The U.S. consulate is also straight above me.

Down Main Street I can see the building housing the Canadian International Grains Institute and the Canadian Grain Commission. And there are many more ag-related interests all around here, too numerous to mention. In a five minute walk I could tour you through a string of analysts’ offices.

This Starbucks is closing for reasons I don’t know, but stuff is shifting all around here. | Ed White photo

This Starbucks is closing for reasons I don’t know, but stuff is shifting all around here. A big new office complex is being built right beside the Winnipeg Jets arena and some Portage and Main tenants have been lured down there, a few blocks away. This tower was the TD tower until recently, then I noticed the TD sign had leapt across Portage and Main to emblazon what I still insist on calling the Commodity Exchange Tower, and others still call the Trizec building, recalling functions of the past.

The Winnipeg Commodity Exchange was renamed and relocated years ago, following its move to all-electronic trading, and was lost to the Portage and Main area, moving out to a business strip mall about a mile from here. The exchange is now in the midst of moving to New York.

Across Portage and Main and through an underground concourse one can find the Cargill Building, which houses a reduced set of offices for the international grain company, which has been internationalizing and denationalizing its global offices in the last few years.

So there have been some losses and diminishment. But there have also been gains. The Richardson Empire has grown and concentrated itself here at Portage and Main. I can’t see it from here, but behind the Richardson building and down a block, construction is already well underway on the new Richardson Innovation Centre, which is bringing food scientists and demonstration labs and kitchens right into the heart of the grain trade. A number of grain trading, grain inspection, grain marketing and other grain-related enterprises have moved in or expanded in the years since I began blogging from this pleasant place. It’s not hard to find grainy people around here, and they’re often amongst those sipping coffee at tables beside me.

I’m sad to see this place go. It didn’t quite make the 10 year anniversary of me doing this blog. But like everything at Portage and Main and in the Canadian grain trade, tumult is constant and flux is a fact of life. I’ll have to find somewhere else to muse and speculate and fulminate and rant from, but I suppose I can’t remain immune to the forces surrounding me, sweeping me along.

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