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Photo by Mary MacArthur
Photo by Mary MacArthur
July 24, 2023

What’s this…fruit wine production in central Alberta’s storied cattle country?


Indeed, a site tour and tasting selection from Delidais Estate Winery north of Three Hills, Alberta was unexpected by many of the 200-plus journalists and professional communicators who participated in last month’s International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ congress in Olds.


You could say participants came for the beef. But it wasn’t hard for this group to understand the reason a nearly 50-year-old fruit nursery would spread its wings and open a new winery a few years ago: that is, diversity.


Producers of all types get a leg up when they diversify their operations to take advantage of market opportunities, supplement their staple commodities’ income, shore up the coffers during challenging years caused by drought or other calamities, and give their customers new and exciting options.


So, fruit wine in cattle country? Why not?


Diversity resonates with journalists. It sparks stories and keeps the news fresh.


But lately, Canadian journalists are finding diversity elusive in their own operations.


For example, just as the congress was getting underway, news surfaced that Canada’s most widely read newspaper, The Toronto Star, was in merger talks with news giant PostMedia. The latter publishes the National Post,the Edmonton Journal, the St. Thomas Times-Journal and about 130 more titles.


Politically, these two media entities would be strange bedfellows, which may be one reason merger talks fizzled. But the news monopoly they’d have if they’d joined forces and shared resources (i.e., cut more jobs) is frightening.


Just as troubling to journalists and others who keep track of the news was that just prior to the congress, the federal government passed new legislation, Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act. It gives the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) new power to regulate Canadian content to include online streaming from the likes of Netflix and Disney+.


Some worry that’s too much centralized power, even though the CRTC is supposed to be arm’s-length from the federal government. After all, a single ideology, a single perspective, government intervention and shrinking newsrooms all bode poorly for democracy, let alone for journalists.


Those ills are not limited to the daily, urban media – they go for farm media, too. Canada had to compete for the right to host the international agricultural journalists’ congress. It got the nod because it had a good program, viable sponsors, a proven track record in global agricultural journalism and a vibrant agricultural media culture.


True, ownership in Canada’s farm newspapers, magazines and other forms of media has shrunk, like it has in urban media.


But there’s still a lot of independence here…like this newspaper, The Grower, serving fruit and vegetable growers for almost 145 years. That is an amazing track record, one to be proud of for staff, advertisers and subscribers alike.


Some of the information shared in the media with growers comes under the wide heading of knowledge mobilization. Besides unfettered news about the agri-food sector, growers of all kinds need unbiased, balanced sources of knowledge, for the likes of technical matters and more. The role of the media – print, broadcast, electronic, social -- is to identify the best sources and present them for their audiences’ use.


Agricultural journalism and communications are global. Its members like presenting international stories that have market and management implications for their audiences, given how the agri-food sector everywhere is so export oriented. That’s what brought them in droves to Olds.


But sometimes, audiences also appreciate a feel-good, gee-whiz story, such as Sodbuster rhubarb wine from central Alberta. This kind of reporting gets the creative juices flowing, promotes thinking about product diversification and shows that artificial intelligence is still a step behind humans.





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Submitted by Owen Roberts on 24 July 2023