Man. backs northern agriculture programming

Revised, May 29 — Residents of Manitoba’s north can expect funding for expansion of agricultural production, a new provincial ag office and support of harvesting “non-timber forest products” such as foods and medicinal compounds.

Traditional production agriculture doesn’t extend much farther north in Manitoba than the now-shuttered Viterra grain elevator at The Pas, about 400 km southwest of the northern city of Thompson. But the provincial and federal governments have stated their aim to develop different forms of farming in the north, in three separate announcements Thursday.

The provincial agriculture and Aboriginal and northern affairs departments each pledged $100,000 for a non-timber forest products program, to be managed by the province’s Community Economic Development Fund (CEDF).

The non-timber program’s focus will be “to encourage local residents and communities to identify, launch and expand business opportunities based on locally available non-forest products,” the province said.

That’s to include provincial support for the “co-ordinated assembly and marketing of products along with education and training for harvesters in sustainable management and harvesting and in product development and marketing.”

“Local product lines can include foods, natural medicinal products and harvestable items that can be turned into commercial products using traditional methods, modern technical processes or a combination of the two,” Eric Robinson, the province’s acting Aboriginal and northern affairs minister, said in a release.

“These marketable products create jobs and have a positive economic impact on the northern communities and the people who live there.”

GO Centre

The provincial ag department on Thursday also marked the grand opening of one of its GO (Growing Opportunities) Centres in Thompson.

“There are many agriculture- and agri-business-related opportunities waiting to be developed or expanded in Manitoba’s northern and rural areas,” Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk said in a release.

“This GO Centre will give northern residents better access to information and will help producers and entrepreneurs take advantage of value-added product development opportunities.”

As is the case at GO Centres in other rural Manitoba communities, the Thompson centre’s Northern GO team is to include an ag production and business specialist, as well as a northern leadership specialist. The centre will also provide access to other provincial specialists in farm production, business development and other areas.

The Northern GO team is also expected to work closely with the CEDF, the Aboriginal and northern affairs department and the provincial health and healthy living department on “the unique challenges in food production, preservation and food storage.”

Local produce

Also in Thompson Thursday, the provincial and federal governments pledged $250,000 and $600,000 respectively through the Growing Forward agricultural policy framework for a new Northern Agricultural Program, aimed at encouraging northern ag production and increasing availability of “locally produced healthy foods” in the province’s north.

“Northern Manitoba offers many real and untapped opportunities for sustainable development in agriculture production,” Wowchuk said at a joint announcement with federal Treasury Board president and Manitoba MP Vic Toews.

“Livestock can be raised and a variety of food crops can be grown across the north utilizing innovative production methods and processing systems. Marketing of locally grown food also creates more healthy options for the residents of the north.”

The program is meant to encourage the development of ag production through education and technology development support for northern residents as well as development, testing and launch of livestock and crop production systems.

“Creating and developing marketing opportunities that will make fresh, locally produced foods accessible to remote communities is also part of the plan,” the governments said in Thursday’s release.

The Northern Agriculture Program is meant to focus on residents in rural and First Nations communities north of the 53rd parallel, with programs to be “supported and facilitated” by the Northern GO team.

CLARIFICATION, May 29: An earlier version of this story referred to the “Viterra grain elevator at The Pas,” which closed last fall. 

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