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Getting to the grassroots

The hardest part about communicating with farmers is getting to the farmers

A convinced mind is hard to crack. Except if that mind belongs to a farmer. Then it’s nearly impossible.

My job as director of communications with the Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers involves communicating with farmers. It is difficult. When I’m with my peers, we brainstorm better ways to reach them. We dream of beautiful, comprehensive databases full of current email addresses and activated telephone numbers — a utopia whereby commodity groups have a mainline to its members and they to it.

In this make-believe world, I would send out a newsletter, and, eureka, it would reach all the inboxes. Every farmer would be teeming with relevant information and research relevant to his or her farm.

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But this is not the reality we live in, folks. No. It’s not even close. I remain idealist, though. I will continue to scrape and claw toward this dream, even if only an inch is gained. Because, dang it, I really enjoy chatting with farmers. And I really do believe these non-profit commodity associations have something valuable to offer.

I have been at the forefront of a process that could see five commodity groups amalgamation into one. There’s lots I can’t say here, but there is also lots I can.

My involvement is simple: pluck what is being discussed at the steering committee level and place it in the laps of each and every farmer this will affect. Easy, right? No. It’s not.

Getting to the farmers

Press releases are a wonderful, somewhat timeless tool, but they have to be read. Twitter is a useful tool, but tweets have to be seen. Meetings are perhaps the most effective medium, but they have to be attended.

Many farmers still don’t know much about the process. They have seen the headlines, but haven’t ruminated on the contents.

I was frustrated about this once. When I was green. When I was young. But a year later, the wisdom is just oozing out of my pores.

It’s okay to not reach everyone, because it’s just not possible. It’s okay to repeat information more times than you think is necessary. It’s actually essential that you do. It’s okay to grant people more time. Usually, it’s needed.

Amalgamation is at once an easy word to digest. The businessperson is familiar with the word. She hears it used in the news every day, and reads it in the papers.

But, it turns out, amalgamation is quite tricky. As a consumer of news and someone armed with just enough information to comment on this life science company amalgamating with that one, you’re not going very deep and you’re certainly not driving the process.

This amalgamation is different. It is real. Farmers are driving it. And it’s complicated. It has stirred emotions, riled people up and made others afraid, both of the loss of the current system and the potential delinquencies of the new model.

Some farmers believe an amalgamated group won’t be able to represent all the crops it purports to. Others believe that the commodity group in which they are active is unique and should not be involved in the process. There are some who believe it’s the best option and will make things more efficient and therefore better equipped to provide more value. And then there’s every other position imaginable.

You’re in the driver’s seat now. The guts of this thing will be mapped and approved by you.

It’s not my job to take sides. It’s my job to make sure you hear about it. It’s my job to direct you to mbcrops.ca to learn more.

This process signifies a potentially large change for many of Manitoba’s commodity groups.

It’s important to view the opinions of others as valuable, no matter how silly or uninformed it may seem. There’s a nugget there, more often than not.

I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to what farmers have had to say on this matter.

Historically, my best decisions have come after a good night sleep, which for this process may be a little longer than eight hours. I don’t mind. It gives me time to talk with more farmers, an enjoyable and rewarding responsibility. A few minds may crack and let some light in. A few minds won’t need to. That’s not up to me.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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