Market Prospects celebrates 20th year on TV
By Colleen MacPherson
With little fanfare, an initiative centred in the department of agricultural economics is celebrating two decades of delivering timely agricultural market information, analysis and education to producers on the Prairies and across the country.
Market Prospects, a 10-minute segment on CTV’s Saturday program Farmgate, began its 20th season with a discussion of the livestock feed situation and outlook. It will continue until April 16, about the time Saskatchewan farmers are ready to seed, providing market information about a variety of crops as well as issues like climate change, countervails and BSE’s impact on the beef sector. Agricultural economist and program co-ordinator Robert Roy said while the topics have varied over the years, the aim of Market Prospects has remained unchanged – to provide producers with the best possible information as they make decisions about spring planting.
Ken Rosaasen, an economist involved since the program’s inception, said Market Prospects grew out of the extension efforts of the University. There was a time when the ag economists travelled the province giving workshops to groups of producers but after a particularly difficult trip through a snowstorm, “we decided maybe there was a better way than chasing our radiator cap all over Saskatchewan. We thought we would try some modern technology.”
Rosaasen said initial funding from the University and the provincial government in 1985 allowed for production of one-day programs that were broadcast via satellite to four centres in Saskatchewan with the help of what is now the University’s Division of Media and Technology. Those programs “were big long educational things”, running some six hours and featuring a number of guests discussing a variety of topics with phone-in questions from viewers.
By 1986, the program was broadcast to 12 centres in Saskatchewan and three in Alberta. In 1995, the move was made to commercial television to reach a wider audience, with CTV showing six half-hour programs. Still trying to reach more people, Market Prospects moved to Farmgate in 1998 with its current format of 15-18 short segments a season. Recent statistics show some 75,000 Saskatchewan people watch the program. It can also be picked up via satellite across Canada.
Rosaasen explained that the program makes a clear distinction between market news and market information. For example, reporting the number of acres seeded in Brazil is news. Interpreting that information by discussing how it will affect Canadian producers and commodity markets “is when it’s education”.
In putting together a show, the co-ordinators prepare scripted questions on a particular topic for the Farmgate host to ask the Market Prospects guest. This work is usually done as close to broadcast time as possible in order to include the latest reports, news releases and market forecasts from around the world. Rosaasen points out the Saskatchewan-based show has “one big advantage – we seed last in the world” and can therefore include information from other producing nations that already have crops in the ground.
What may be most impressive about Market Prospects is the calibre of guests it attracts. A regular on the show is Keith Collins, chief economist with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This season he appeared twice, discussing agricultural trade and the outlook for wheat and oilseeds. The U.S. countervails segment this season featured Andrew Schmitz of the Department of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Florida. Other notable guests have included analysts with the Australian Wheat Board and the Conference Board of Canada, and the editor of the German publication OilWorld, a leading source of oilseed information.
Roy said the co-ordinators try to select guests “who, in our view, are very good” in a particular area. And, “we’re rarely turned down when we ask people to appear.”
James Lokken, who helps put together Market Prospects, added that “local experts are often still recognized as the best so we try to maintain a mix of guests.”
The biggest hurdle faced by the co-ordinators is finding funding. Once fully funded by the Agriculture Institute of Management in Saskatchewan (AIMS), Market Prospects now seeks support year-to-year for its $25,000-$40,000 budget. That said, the economists still see a very real need for their program.
“When you look at agriculture, what is the thing that keeps coming up?” asked Roy. “It’s always marketing. Because of the tough economic situation many farmers find themselves in, an understanding of international markets and marketing options is more important than ever. The program can help producers make spring planting decisions and choose a mix of crops and livestock that will hopefully be profitable for them in the end.”