Happy B-day CBC, and praise for a CBC Manitoba host/reporter

CBC’s 75 years old today and it deserves a hearty Happy Birthday! Lots of people gripe about it for various reasons – I’ve been part of that crowd at times – but without it we’d all be a lot worse off. There are things it does no-one else has the ability to do. (Yes, yes I know – it’s all with our taxpayer dollar. But that’s what government is for, isn’t it?)

With Remembrance Day only a few days off, the CBC’s archives are a treasure trove of reporting from the front in the Second World War, where its reporters pioneered the journalistic use of battle noises to add depth and a sense of closeness and reality to their broadcasts. (Their reporters were actually right up at the front with the troops.)

Check out the CBC archives for WW2, Korean War and other Canadian military stuff at web pages like this one: http://archives.cbc.ca/war_conflict/second_world_war/topics/1317. For some reason I can’t get the audio to work, but when it comes to the digital world, I’m a caveman. I’m sure you’ll do better.

Rather than discuss anything else about CBC’s 75 years, I thought I’d give praise for recent work by CBC Manitoba radio which no one else could do, and it was something that recognized and highlighted the flooding situation ravaging the lives of cattle producers, other rural people and aboriginal bands living around the shores of Lake Manitoba. The area has been inundated with floodwaters for the entire spring, summer and fall and cattle producers have had to rescue cattle, relocate them, flee their homes, even give up their farms and herds. It’s been a terrible tragedy unfolding. Right now farmers are hurriedly moving cattle to pastures and winter grounds away from the flood zone, hauling thousands of bales into the area (any low lying pastures around the lake have been unusable and will be next spring too), and trying to figure out if they have a future in the cattle industry.

Twice this year morning show co-host/reporter Marcy Markusa – once in the spring and once a couple of weeks ago – circumnavigated the shores of Lake Manitoba, met farmers, rural people and people in small towns, and gave voice to their stories. Story after story after story told true tales of people beset by problems in the less-visited parts of this countryside and let Winnipeggers and people in the rest of Manitoba get a sense of what has been happening there. I moved to this province 10 years ago and I have been stunned at how little the outside-Winnipeg world intrudes in the local media, but work like Marcy’s threw it in front of everyone and drew attention to something that would otherwise have been totally ignored.

An agricultural economist crunched the numbers and can now statistically validate what Saskatchewan Pulse Growers has been telling its members for years; that they are getting good bang for their buck from the pulse checkoff.Richard Gray told the 952 producers gathered at Pulse Days 2004 that every levy dollar they pay between 1984 and 2008 will generate an estimated $13.46 worth of benefits. The further the timeline is extended, the greater the return, with the benefit-cost ratio rising to $15.63 per levy dollar between 1984 and 2020."The checkoff has been a very good investment for producers," said the University of Saskatchewan economist. "The amount they've spent they've got back manyfold."He said paying into the checkoff is a good way for Saskatchewan's producers to maintain their province's status as one of the world's leading exporters of pulses."If they're interested and concerned about long-term competitiveness, it's absolutely the thing to do."Gray said it was immaterial that the subject funded the study and the results were "defendable and accurate."Saskatchewan Pulse Growers has been collecting a checkoff since it's inception in 1984. The grower-funded association recently doubled its mandatory levy to one percent of producers' grain cheques to beef up research spending.Gray said that was a commendable decision because the transfer of basic and applied research into the marketplace has been a "major engine of growth" for the industry.Improved pulse varieties have increased yields and decreased the amount of inputs required to grow a successful crop. Research into inoculants, fertilizers and machinery has also benefited farmers, as has work on using peas for hog feed.He "conservatively estimated" the grower association has accelerated the development of the industry by two full years, which by 2020 will have generated a $204 million producer surplus.Pulse breeder Al Slinkard, who was honored at Crop Production Week when Saskatchewan Pulse Growers announced an annual University of Saskatchewan scholarship in his name, disagreed with that assessment. He said the checkoff's acceleration factor is closer to five years.Gray said he was purposefully conservative with his calculation, which doesn't include the benefits associated with beans, a relatively new crop for the province, or with the association's market development activities.In his Saskatoon presentation, he also pointed out the consumer benefits associated with pulse research, because as the cost of production falls so do prices that buyers pay.Terry Boehm, a farmer from Allan, Sask., told Gray his study makes a good case for public funding of research and development because it leads to quantifiable consumer benefits. However, he didn't think farmers are shouldering more than their fair share of the pulse research spending burden.Gray said the industry will use the study to try to leverage more federal and provincial support for pulse research."There is a role for government here and hopefully this will encourage government to also come to the plate with dollars," he said.

Private radio covers these stories too, but generally private radio has far fewer staff and resources and can only touch on the stories. They cover these things every day, but to really pop it up in front of the urban audience takes a lot of staff, time and money. It takes an organization with resources and journalistic depth to give this kind of heft to this kind of coverage, and CBC Manitoba and Marcy Markusa did that in this case, both in the springtime and recently.

Today I’m heading out to one of those farms, and I know from talking to the people that they appreciate their plight being recognized. The Manitoba Beef Producers told me the same recently. The CBC coverage has helped them ensure their situation hasn’t just disappeared from the public’s mind. Their greatest worry recently has been that they would be forgotten, now that the extremity of the situation has been reduced.

So, on this 75th Bday party of CBC, let’s wish them well and say thanks for coverage like this, which allowed farmers’ voices to be heard in non-farming parts of our society. CBC has dropped a lot of farm and rural-based programs across the country in recent years, but work like this offers hope that those hard-to-tell farming and rural stories can still be told to provincial and national audiences.

CBC has a website dedicated to its 75th, and there’s a lot of great stuff there, from a Friendly Giant episode to Wayne and Shuster stuff. As I noted before, the archival material on the Second World War is terrific and I’m going to be spending time with the online archives as Remembrance Day approaches.










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