Member Spotlight: GrainsWest Keeps Pace With Changing Farm Industry

Date: 20th August 2021

By Sarah Moore

Four years into his role as editor of GrainsWest, a magazine for Alberta farmers, Ian Doig says that it still feels like he’s constantly learning about Alberta’s farm industry. He doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

“Even if you come from a farm background, you’re sort of galloping to keep up, just because there’s so much innovation and change in the industry right now,” he says. “There’s just a wealth of material to work with.”

Since 2014, GrainsWest has been the trade magazine for Alberta grain farmers. It has a readership of around 20,000 cereal farmers in the province, as well as around 2,000 agricultural researchers, agronomists and administrators in Alberta, Canada and beyond. The quarterly publication is funded by the Alberta Wheat Commission and Alberta Barley.

Though GrainsWest is set up as an independent entity from the two grain commissions, it takes regular guidance from an editorial advisory board to make sure its content is reflecting the needs of farmers. The board, made up of six farmers and a communications representative from both Alberta Barley and the Alberta Wheat Commission, meets with the magazine six times a year to hear about proposed stories.

GrainsWest includes stories about the best practices for growing wheat and barley, but Doig says industry issues go far beyond that, covering topics such as agricultural research, crop breeding and science, farm finances, international trade, government legislation and technology.

“We’re kind of a filter for a lot of those emerging issues,” he says. “We’re a hotline to our readership. We try to get everything in the magazine that farmers ought to know about.”

For example, connectivity has become increasingly important, as farms need powerful enough internet access to run software that controls certain machinery. Farmers are very forward-thinking in their technology adoption, says Doig, and so the lack of connectivity – especially in rural areas – is proving to be a stumbling block.

From internet connectivity to advancements in cereal crop genetics and carbon taxation, the information pertinent to Alberta farmers is never static. GrainsWest covers those changes on multiple platforms, producing a podcast in addition to the print and online magazine.

Production of the podcast was temporarily halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Doig says the target is quarterly episodes to mirror the magazine’s publishing schedule. Episodes are supplemental to the magazine, expanding on a topic covered in print – such as, most recently, the use of beneficial insects to control pests.

The innovation by Alberta farmers and agricultural researchers makes GrainsWest a dynamic forum for ideas.

“Agriculture is just a wealth of knowledge,” says Doig. “The farm industry has really got its act together.”

What was the first magazine you fell in love with?

I was definitely a comic book guy as a kid. The first magazine that really hit me hard was VOX magazine, the programming guide of CJSW Radio at the University of Calgary. I really, really liked that when I hit college and found it. I was the graphic design guy for that magazine for a while.

What is your favourite thing about working in magazines?

I think it is the lifelong learning aspect. I can write stories about almost anything I’m interested in and I can talk to almost anybody I can think of to talk to. If you’re a generalist, if you kind of like everything and you’re interested in everything, then magazines is the place to be. It’s the place for me.

How would you describe Alberta’s magazine industry, in a couple of words?

I would say it punches above its weight. The content of Alberta magazines is surprisingly broad and surprisingly good.

Who is someone whose work you especially admire?

Close at hand, I think Evan Osenton does a fantastic job editing Alberta Views. Every time I read it I feel like I’ve caught up with a bunch of Alberta issues that I should know about.

What are you looking forward to in the next year?

I’m looking forward to a little bit of gathering information in the field. We have a couple of projects that will take me out of my home office and out into the farming community so I am very much looking forward to that. I’ve managed to get out on projects that have taken me out into rural areas in the past, and it’s been just fantastic. I went out on a photo foray last summer – distanced and outdoors – at a cattle feeding operation last summer. But that’s been only once since COVID, so I’m very much looking forward to COVID being over and being able to get out there in the world.

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