Another decade down

From Winnipeg Free Press, December 26, 2009

A lot can happen in a decade.

In fact, many of the forces shaping agriculture and food industries today weren't even on our radar screens as the millennium turned a decade ago. Meanwhile, other forces that were expected to dissipate have remained stubbornly resistant.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, was something farmers in the U.K. and Europe were confronting. No one seriously thought it would ever surface here, nor did they imagine the lasting impact the discovery of one infected animal in 2003 would have on this country's beef industry.

Not only have producers here suffered the economic consequences of trade disruptions, they have been saddled with the costs of implementing new protocols and regulations in its wake.

Manitoba's hog industry was still in the early stages of its explosive expansion and conversion from stability through a large number of independent producers to a centralized, intensive production system. The industry operated under the assumption Manitoba's wide-open spaces, friendly government oversight and its competitive advantage -- largely due to the currency differential -- would shelter its expansion indefinitely.

The Canadian dollar was around 69 cents US at the turn of the century. Today it is around 94 cents US. As for free trade, it seems that for every trade barrier removed, another surfaces, causing one industry analyst to refer to trade recently as "blood sport." Rules only matter if you get caught.

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