It took only a few days into the new year for the provincial Tory government to make a decisive move impacting Manitoba’s farmers. The government closed two-thirds of its offices which had served farmers. The twenty-one offices will be locked for good on April 1. Service will be consolidated in the 10 offices which remain open.

The government will claim cost savings and the fact the offices are not used as much as they once were, as justification for the move. Both reasons are right of course, but deserve to be more closely examined. In the Interlake region, there were five offices in Arborg, Ashern, Lundar, Fisher Branch and Teulon. The Arborg office will remain open. The other four communities will lose the employment and all the other benefits which come with an office in one’s town. When a farmer goes to the major centre for a meeting at the government office, he takes with him the grocery list, a stop for lunch at a restaurant, a visit to a farm machinery dealership and a fill up at the gas station–all would have been done in his home town, but now moved because of a government decision.

Many years ago, when a farmer had a question or needed advice, there was really only one credible source–the agricultural representative. Now there are many companies which offer their knowledge and advice–fertilizer, grain and seed companies.

The problem is they all have a vested interest. They don’t give unbiased opinions. They are there to sell their product. Would one expect them to advise to stop using fertilizers, or to plant a rival company’s seed?

The same principal was involved in the federal government’s withdrawal from much of the agricultural research which it used to do at research stations across the country. The research done by private companies is useful, but it is incomplete. As an example, farmers want to know the level of pesticide to use to control weeds in the crop. But, they also want to know if there is another control method that doesn’t involve using expensive chemicals. Which pesticide manufacturer will supply them with that information?

Manitoba farmers are surprised, even shocked, that they got it stuck to them by this provincial government, one that they consider a friendly government, No doubt, organizations representing farmers and municipal governments will be talking to the premier and other government officials in an attempt to save some of the offices. They should be successful. Farmers have returned Tory members to the legislature for many years.

Jim Rae is the former host of Information Radio on CBC Radio.

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