Manitoba Ag Days has been delayed due to the new limits on public gathering sizes set by the province on Monday.
Canada’s largest indoor farm show was set to take place in Brandon Jan. 18-20. The event’s board of directors is exploring new dates based on when public health measures will likely be eased, said Ag Days general manager Kristen Phillips.
As of Tuesday, public gatherings involving both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are restricted to 50 per cent capacity or 250 people, whichever is less, until at least Jan. 11.
“We just do not foresee the restrictions being lifted to a capacity that would allow us to have a successful show,” Phillips said.
“We all know how important it is to protect our health-care system, and so we understand, but I think it’s frustrating that we are unable to move forward in planning life.”
Organizers are currently working with the Keystone Centre and service providers to set a new date and time for the show sometime in February or March.
Phillips noted all aspects of the farm show will be delayed, including virtual events such as Manitoba Ag Days Amazing Adventure.
“Our plan is to have an in-person show or no show at all,” Phillips said. “Farmers and agriculture is a business of handshakes and face-to-face interactions, and we’ve seen that through the pandemic and that is what we want to deliver on — an in-person, face-to-face greeting.”
Ag Days is a key driver for Brandon and Westman’s economy — it contributes about $350 million each year to Manitoba and Western Canada.
Phillips said agriculture is considered an essential service and Manitoba Ag Days is a significant cog in the wheel of agriculture in those regions.
She added each year there is about $300 million generated in agriculture equipment sales and related services and about $50 million in ancillary spending such as tourism and shopping in Westman.
“The economic spinoff of Ag Days is unbelievable; the spread and radius and impact of our show is ginormous.”
Mayor Rick Chrest said he was not surprised to see Ag Days delayed given current public health measures and the logistics of running the show.
“It’s a very large undertaking. A very large setup and a lot of large equipment … it’s certainly not easy to turn on and turn off and turn on a dime.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been heartbreaking and economically challenging each time the city has seen a significant event cancelled or postponed.
“The impact of this is certainly well beyond the community of Brandon. This is also a very important activity to the agriculture sector,” Chrest said. “It’s certainly one of the events that have a significant reverberation through the province.”
Ag Days provides new information, best practices, research, equipment and more to the sector.
The ag industry lies in the heart of the Wheat City, Westman and Manitoba, Chrest said, but it takes a careful balance to keep people safe during the pandemic. Organizations have been forced to make tough decisions in the last two years, and events large like Ag Days and small like local sports tournaments are being affected. What matters, Chrest said, is these events are important to the people involved.
“I’m pretty sure that every event is difficult to make a call. I’ve been extremely proud of our community and all of the organizations that have made those decisions,” Chrest said. “When COVID was just starting up two years ago, many things got cancelled or postponed by the private organizations, long before there were any orders to do so. At the time, I found that to be extremely impactful.”
In many cases, these delays were done voluntarily because organizations realized it was the right thing to do to help keep the community safe, Chrest said, and this philosophy is continuing. Organizations and businesses of all sizes are being forced to adjust, pivot and adapt to health measures, and in many cases, it can be financially difficult.
“Every time we feel like we’re getting some breathing room here and getting back to some sense of normalcy, we’ve got another wave or another circumstance that causes us to have to battle back again,” Chrest said. “I’ve been quite impressed by the resiliency of the human spirit that we just keep carrying on, and we keep finding a way and battling on against this thing. I’m confident we’ll keep doing so until we get most of it behind us.”
He noted Brandon has seen a significant uptick in active COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, Prairie Mountain Health reported 119 new cases of the virus and 667 active cases overall in the region.
“As much as we would like to be done with the virus, it’s not done with us,” Chrest said.
Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba president Greg Crisanti said the organization understands what Ag Days is experiencing.
“Our board is extremely sympathetic and upset that Ag Days has had to postpone,” Crisanti said. “We understand where Ag Days are coming from — we’ve all been in this boat before. It’s a tremendous blow to the city.”
Crisanti said the Provincial Ex is still planning for its next event, the President’s Dinner, in late February, and the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair at the end of March.
It is challenging prepping for events in 2022, he said, but the Provincial Ex is ready to pivot based on provincial health measures.
Moving ahead on shows will depend on how many people can attend in person.
Crisanti noted it is a different situation for the Provincial Ex compared to 2020 and 2021, because it is no longer shocking to see restrictive health measures implemented.
“Before it was days before our event that we had to cancel. Coming into something like this, I guess, it’s kind of weird saying it, but we’re used to it,” Crisanti said.
“We’re better prepared this time and we’re still hopeful.
“Hopefully, we can get out of this and see some brighter skies ahead for everybody.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun