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PRINT PERSPECTIVES
PROSE IN FINALE
Editor's Note: David Wreford has been editor of the Country Guide, one of Canada's largest, most prominent agricultural magazines, since 1975. Growing up in Australia, he obtained an agricultural degree and came to Canada after university to visit family. Looking for a job that entailed travel, he joined Southam Business Publications as a field editor for Food Farming and Canadian Farm Equipment Dealer. While in Winnipeg on business he met and eventually married Diane, herself a prominent member of the agricultural communications business. Settling in Winnipeg, he soon rose to his role at Country Guide and has been a keen observer of agriculture ever since. As he retires from his tenure at the magazine as of May, he completes some thoughts for Agri Marketing:

Agricultural publishing is changing as farmers don't look to farm media for entertainment and general-interest stuff to the extent they did 40 years ago; today they have access to other media for that. Tomorrow's ag journalists will still have to be good journalists and writers, but they'll also need more specialized industry knowledge, on average, than we have today.

In other ways agriculture is the same since I started writing. Farming has changed, but at the most fundamental level farmers haven't. They're still the same independent, self-reliant, resourceful, creative, salt-of-the-earth characters they always were. They still enjoy being their own boss to the extent that many could not work for someone else. They still take pride in producing food to feed the other 99 percent of the population. And they're still optimistic -- they have to be!

The best way to reach farmers in today's world is still print. When targeting farmers you are aiming at an infinitesimal fraction of the overall population, and even a very small fraction of rural dwellers. You need highly selective media to reach this demographic group economically. Things are changing, however, and the pace will accelerate as high-speed Internet becomes generally available in farming areas. For a glimpse into the future, look at how farmers now get their commodity market information.

Farmers need to hear more about preferences and priorities of the end-users of crops and livestock. The consumer really does call the shots and farmers are sometimes slow to get this message.

The most frustrating issue in agriculture is the chronic tendency of government to stick its nose into the industry. In large part this interference is well-intentioned and even desired by farmers. Few, for example, are going to vote against someone who offers handouts. But farm programs tend to delay industry restructuring that in the end happens anyway. Looking back over 40 years, one wonders if farmers and our industry would be better off today if governments in Canada, the U.S., the EU and so on had simply allowed the marketplace to dictate where agriculture would go and how it would get there.

American and Canadian farmers differ in a few minor ways, but I do not subscribe to the view that profound contrasts can be found in how they think and how they farm. People who want to find differences will always find them. Americans obviously produce a far wider range of crops than Canadians, and under different weather conditions, soil conditions, market conditions and so on. But at the end of the day, in my opinion, we're talking the same breed of cat.

The favorite story I ever wrote focused on the first commercial airseeders. I got a lot of mail on that one, all negative and all explaining how out of touch I was in suggesting that these weird machines could ever displace conventional double-disc drills and discer seeders.

The best interview I ever conducted was with some guy from the USSR embassy in Ottawa. An obvious phony, as were many Soviet "diplomats" of that time, he showed up at our Winnipeg office one day and presented himself as an ag attaché type whose last posting had been in Wellington (New Zealand). I talked about the delightful climate of Wellington (it's actually cold, windy and wet) and the beautiful beaches to the west of the city (rocks). He returned my enthusiasm but eventually realized what I was doing. When he admitted he'd never been near the place I suggested we let bygones be bygones and he take me to supper at a fancy eatery. He did. He was well educated. We had a great evening comparing Canadian and USSR political and economic systems. We didn't mention agriculture.

I am retiring because I will be 62 later this year and almost 40 years of deadlines is enough. AM

Robynne Anderson is president of Issues Ink, which publishes Germination, Canadian Potato Business, and several other agricultural magazines.


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