My room was on the fifth floor. I needed to get there. I was bushed (I sometimes say zonked, but I don’t know if that’s a word my family made up or if it’s in the dictionary). The elevator I needed to take was at the end of a long hallway, then to the right about five feet.
The banquet had just let out. It was 10:30 p.m. Many people were still mingling and networking and catching up with people they haven’t seen in a while. I was spent and I had to emcee the next morning’s keynote.
There was nobody in front of me as I walked to the elevator. I was too spent to carry a conversation and I’m generally too chatty not to try, so I was pleased, if not excited, at the prospect of riding the elevator by myself.
Rick Mercer was also waiting for the elevator. I saw him when I took that hard right. Mercer had just finished speaking at CropConnect 2019, a conference I helped plan and one where Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers and many other commodity groups have their AGMs.
“I enjoyed your talk,” I said.
“Thanks,” said Mercer.
I was scrambling. I was going to the well for something smart and engaging to say, but coming up empty. The elevator, for the short distances in needs to travel, was quite slow.
“So… How does CropConnect compare to FarmTech?” I asked.
FarmTech is similar to CropConnect, but is significantly larger. And it takes place in Edmonton.
“They don’t really compare,” said Mercer. “FarmTech is just so huge. The room that I spoke in was so large.”
He then started to look at his phone.
Mercer did not come across as rude. Instead, his demonstrably aloof actions were a direct match to my poorly thought-out question. I knew this. It didn’t bother me.
I opened the door to room 543, brushed my teeth, set my alarm and fell asleep thinking about the speaker I needed to introduce, Darby Allen, Fort McMurray’s fire chief during the 2016 event that saw the whole city evacuated and a state of emergency declared across the entire province.
Allen’s story was powerful. And then a few hours later I got to meet Kevin Cheveldayoff, the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets.
After each of the AGMs I attended over the course of the conference, I was struck and rattled by the same thought: the ag industry is driven by those who show up.
I see the regulars at various AGMs. It’s great. But they represent a small segment of the farming population.
It’s through people such as Mercer, Allen, Chelveldayoff and Michael “Pinball” Clemons that we hope to attract more farmers to such events.
If you, as a farmer, attend the AGM of the commodity group to which you pay a check-off, and you raise a concern or question, you have my word that it will get taken into consideration.
Every year, we condense the previous year’s operations into brief reports and we brace for criticism. Often, it’s the same people getting up to speak.
I appreciate catching up with my friends and colleagues at these events, but I really do want to see new faces. I want to see farmers emboldened to attend and take the mic. I want to see farmers who are visibly nervous — ones who’ve never raised their hands before — ask a question of their association. I can’t overstate how meaningful that would be.
The agricultural industry is used to hearing from the outspoken and is in many respects driven by a vocal few.
This industry is yours to direct. And it’s an industry constantly scouring for new people to take directorships and more people to take an active interest in steering an industry that is constantly moving and constantly in need of direction.
The ag sector will always have a space for you. It’s waiting for you to take the mic. And we’re a friendly, welcoming bunch. Get involved. You may meet Rick Mercer in an elevator along the way. If you do, I hope you’ll come up with better things to say than I did.