Manitoba producers eager for spring planting as Brandon Winter Fair winds down

The end of Brandon’s Royal Manitoba Winter Fair on Saturday marked the start of spring seeding for many southwestern Manitoban producers.

Paul Robertson and his family were at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair agricultural exhibition — a spring break tradition showcasing agriculture, show jumping and other entertainment —showing cattle and sharing stories about how food gets from the farm gate to the dinner plate.

Robertson farms out of Neepawa, located about 80 kilometres north of Brandon, producing wheat, canola, soybeans and feed grains. The farm also has a commercial herd of 170 cows. He says now is the time to get ready to sow seeds in fields.

“Plans are already set for what’s going into the ground and we’ve got some equipment pulled out,” Robertson said.

He says for the most part in his area they’re going into spring seeding with “really good conditions.” The key will be getting timely rains and no flooding.

A dad and daughter stand in front of a cow.
Madisyn Robertson, 16, left, and her dad Paul stand with their cattle. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

For five years his area faced a severe drought. It ended last year with massive flooding. He says this led to a late seeding. Typically Robertson seeds around the last week of April but his crew didn’t get on the field until June 2 in 2022.

He’s optimistic this year will be different, if mother nature co-operates.

A girl sprays a sweaty horse with a hose.
Eliese Burger, 14, from Oakbank washes down Onstar. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

A young girl standing in front of saddles on a wall puts on an English riding helmet.
Sophie Vadon, 10, puts on an English riding helmet. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Minto producer Bill Campbell says there’s still a lot of snow cover making “it pretty well white everywhere” at his farm, which is located about 50 kilometres south of Brandon.

The snow cover is making some producers anxious, he says. Normally at the end of the Winter Fair, they start to see a spring melt and spring runoff. 

A man in a ball cap smiles standing in front of cows.
Producer Bill Campbell checks on his granddaughter’s cattle. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

This year it looks like they may have to wait a week or two for melting to start based on the current weather conditions. 

“At this point, we’re just anxious and getting prepared for spring,” Campbell said.

He hopes to get on the fields in May for seeding.

“We’re up to the challenge of getting the crop in the ground. Then it becomes a bit of management and a lot of Mother Nature after that point and we will be able to harvest the crop in August, September, October.”

Producers at the agricultural exhibition are eager to help the general public understand the ag industry — especially when it comes to the start of the seeding season, said Dallas Johnston, Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba director and cattle chair of the Winter Fair.

A man with a cowboy hat wearing glasses with a moustache looks at the camera.
Cattle Show chair and Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba director Dallas Johnston says for the most producers are feeling optimistic going into spring. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Agricultural education

Johnston says when people come to the animal area of the Winter Fair they can learn a lot about where their food comes from Canadian producers. 

He will field some surprising questions during the fair — one of his favourites is if they, “had any cows here that you get the chocolate milk from.”

A young boy shows a heifer in a cattle show.
Boissevain’s Samuel Maxwell-Blancher, 10, shows his heifer. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“It’s important to know where your food comes from,” Johnston said. “People care about their animals and they do their utmost to provide the public with a safe product for them and their family to eat.”

The Winter Fair sees a wide range of visitors, many from the city who don’t get a chance to connect with agriculture, Robertson said. Producers talk to people about challenges they face, such as seeding.

A woman cleans a cow for a show.
Brynne Yoder, of Barhead, Alta., cleans a cow in preperation for a cattle show. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

These are important rural-urban connections because there can be misinformation when it comes to agricultural production.

“It’s tough for us because we get all the negative all the time and we’re faced with enough challenges throughout our farming careers,” Robertson said. “We’re doing it because we love it.”

A woman stands on a high bench braiding a tall horses mane.
Jolie Bootsman prepares Chex for the eight-horse hitch. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Campbell says these relationships are critical because there can be a disconnect about what life on the farm is like, even though everyone is concerned about food security. 

“Historically … we had the chickens and we had the hogs and we had the milk cow and the beef cow and the horses and all that part,” Campbell said. “Rural people really understand about food security.”

A little girl in a stroller looks at chickens in a pen.
Arizona Cook, 1, checks out chickens on display in the Royal Farm Yard petting zoo. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

A little girl hugs a tiny pony with it's mane died like a rainbow.
Adley Porrok, 4, visits Shorty from Grandview’s SGW Stable. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Events like the cattle show and Royal Farm Yard help bridge the rural-urban divide, showing where some agricultural products come from, he says. 

“We can realize where our food comes from and why it costs what it costs, and the agri processing industry and how we get it on the store shelves in the can or in a glass jar or in the plastic wrap like a head of lettuce,” Campbell said.