We need to be cel­e­brat­ing mod­ern agriculture more

Prairie Post (West Edition) - - Opinion - BY CAM DAHL, PRES­I­DENT, CE­RE­ALS CANADA

Most farm­ers are re­luc­tant to talk about mod­ern agriculture.

Our own in­dus­try ad­ver­tise­ments pro­mote the im­age of a farm with a faded red barn and a few chick­ens run­ning about in a pas­toral set­ting.

That is not mod­ern agriculture and we need to stop let­ting agriculture be por­trayed this way.

It is not hard to un­der­stand why mod­ern agriculture shies away from talking about what we do on the farm. Mod­ern agriculture prac­tices are reg­u­larly at­tacked by ac­tivists who want to re­turn to the lost golden age of Ol’ McDon­ald’s farm.

One just has to look at the re­cent flurry of neg­a­tive me­dia cov­er­age of glyphosate, one of the most stud­ied and re­viewed pes­ti­cides in his­tory, to see ev­i­dence of agriculture prac­tices be­ing ques­tioned.

The truth is that Ol’ McDon­ald re­tired a long time ago. We should let him en­joy his dotage. His day was char­ac­ter­ized by ru­ral poverty, houses with no run­ning wa­ter and no cen­tral heat. Ru­ral school­ing was in one room that gave those in them lit­tle chance of ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion.

The good old days were not very good for those liv­ing in them. Mod­ern agriculture has changed that.

To­day most agriculture pro­duc­tion in Canada takes place on com­mer­cial farms that are thriv­ing busi­nesses.

Mostly owned and op­er­ated by fam­i­lies, they are man­aged by in­di­vid­u­als with ad­vanced de­grees and a deep un­der­stand­ing of international mar­kets. The equip­ment is not rust­ing pick-ups and open cab trac­tors but com­bines, sprayers and trac­tors that are guided by satel­lites. Seeds, fertilizers and pes­ti­cides used are the re­sult of years of in­ten­sive re­search.

These tools are de­signed to have a min­i­mal en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print and to be safe for farm­ers and con­sumers alike.

I am told by pro­fes­sional com­mu­ni­ca­tors that talking about mod­ern agriculture in this way does not ef­fec­tively reach con­sumers and give them com­fort in how their food is pro­duced. Some­one is a down­town ur­ban cen­ter, shop­ping for their kids’ lunch, does not care that much about erad­i­cat­ing ru­ral poverty.

They just want to know that they will be giv­ing their kids a safe an nu­tri­tious lunch. So what has mod­ern agriculture done for con­sumers?

Let’s tackle “af­ford­able”. By Fe­bru­ary 9th of 2018, the aver­age Cana­dian house­hold earned enough in­come to pay for their gro­cery bill for the en­tire year, spend­ing about 10 per­cent of their in­come on food. Want to com­pare? Por­tuguese con­sumers spend about 17, per­cent of their in­come on food, Rus­sians 28 per­cent and Nige­ri­ans 56 per­cent. Those of us in­volved in agriculture need to do a bet­ter job of com­mu­ni­cat­ing how mod­ern farm­ing tools and prac­tices have given Cana­di­ans ac­cess to some of the cheap­est and high­est qual­ity food in the world. We also need to be able to re­late what hap­pens when ill-con­ceived reg­u­la­tions take those tools away.

Mod­ern Cana­dian agriculture is also de­liv­er­ing some of the safest food in the world. A re­cent study by the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada ranked food safety per­for­mance of Canada and six­teen other de­vel­oped OECD (Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment) na­tions.

Canada’s food safety ranked the high­est of all the coun­tries ex­am­ined.

Mod­ern Cana­dian agriculture has a very good en­vi­ron­men­tal story to tell. Mod­ern prac­tices such as con­ser­va­tion tillage are in­creas­ing the health of soils, re­duc­ing the amount of fuel used and re­duc­ing soil ero­sion. Pre­ci­sion agriculture, which uses satel­lites to pre­cisely steer equip­ment is max­i­miz­ing the ef­fi­ciency of pes­ti­cides and fertilizers, fur­ther re­duc­ing fuel use and pro­tect­ing wa­ter from nu­tri­ent run-off.

In the last 40 years, en­ergy use per tonne of wheat pro­duced has re­duced by 39 per­cent. Forty years ago soil or­ganic mat­ter was be­ing de­pleted with ev­ery crop. Mod­ern agriculture has changed this pic­ture dra­mat­i­cally and to­day or­ganic mat­ter in prairie soils is in­creas­ing ev­ery year. This means the soil is health­ier, it is more pro­duc­tive, less sus­cep­ti­ble soil ero­sion and farms across Canada are se­ques­ter­ing car­bon diox­ide.

Why are these good news sto­ries about mod­ern agriculture not get­ting through to aver­age Cana­di­ans?

One of the rea­sons is that those who are op­posed to mod­ern agriculture are fo­cused on their com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­forts and have spent the time and money to co­or­di­nate their work.

Agriculture, on the other hand, does not have united com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­forts. We are all fo­cused on our in­di­vid­ual com­pa­nies and or­ga­ni­za­tions and of­ten com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the pub­lic is left to “side of the desk” projects. This needs to change.

Agriculture needs to give time, money and co­or­di­na­tion to our out­reach. Mod­ern agriculture has a good story to tell, but if we aren’t telling it then we are let­ting oth­ers speak for us and all con­sumers will hear are con­cerns from out­side our in­dus­try.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.