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Ralph Eichler, Manitoba minister of agriculture (Submitted photo)

'Agriculture doesn't know boundaries' says Manitoba minister of agriculture during visit to ND

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Ralph Eichler was born and raised in Colorado, moving to Canada with his family in 1968. Though initially unenthusiastic about the change, he eventually became a proud Canadian agriculturalist and now serves as Manitoba minister of agriculture.

"Agriculture doesn't know boundaries,"and certainly not the one between Manitoba and North Dakota to the south, Eichler said.

On Sept. 18, he meet with North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring in Grand Forks, about 140 miles south of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Though Eichler's position is appointed and Goehring's is elected, their respective posts have many similarities.

"This is really about enhancing communications," Goehring said of the meeting. "There are opportunities to make sure we can get on the same page working for the same goals."

He and Eichler said they're in the initial stages of developing "a memorandum of understanding" that would include ways in which Manitoba and North Dakota agriculture could work together constructively.

"This would be just not symbolic. There also would be some meat to wrap around the bones. Which means it will be significant in furthering the cause of all of our agricultural economy" in Manitoba and North Dakota, Goehring said.

The province and state share similar climate, raise many of the same crops and livestock, and face many of the same crop and insect pests. They also are major trading partners.

Given that, it's logical for North Dakota and Manitoba officials to ask, "What kind of information can we share that we all benefit from?" Goehring said.

The Trump administration is working to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which includes the United States, Canada and Mexico. But there are questions about how and when Canada will be integrated into a U.S./Mexico agreement announced in August.

Eichler, asked about NAFTA, said, "Cooler heads will prevail. We know we'll have an agreement soon."

He noted that the trade negotiations are handled at the national level, not the state-province level.

Many in U.S. agriculture, particularly the dairy industry, are critical of Canada's supply management system. The system sets production quotas and prices for Canada's domestic dairy products and imposes steep tariffs on imported dairy products.

Eichler, asked whether Canada will stick with supply management, said, "I know it works for us." But he declined to predict its future.