Agricultural innovation needs more promotion

Soil biochemist and former Dow AgroSciences Canada researcher Bill McGregor thinks the agriculture industry doesn’t brag enough.

Farming research and technology have resulted in major boosts to productivity and quality, but it isn’t common knowledge among an increasingly urban population.

“I don’t think we really stand up and take credit for what we do,” he said in a Feb. 7 speech at the University of Lethbridge.

“I think we are way, way too bashful in promoting our own abilities and what we’ve done.”

He said that modesty and failure to publicize agricultural innovation has resulted in a shortage of graduate students interested in agriculture research as a career.

Numbers tell the tale of production improvement.

Canadian land in fallow dropped to six million acres in 2012 from 11 million in 1999, 21 million acres in 1986 and 27 million in 1975.

McGregor said the increased productivity was a result of improved farming practices made possible through research and innovation including fertilizer and chemical use.

Average wheat yield has almost doubled in the past 35 years to 33 to 42 bushels per acre. Canola has seen similar increases in average yield, while pulses have grown from a minor crop to a major one.

McGregor said there are major opportunities for Canadian agriculture to thrive as the world population grows because of its sound production system and a well-educated producer base.

However, it will be difficult to achieve the same increases in productivity as has been seen in the past.

Weed and insect resistance to chemical controls is part of that, but so is agriculture’s image problem, which prevents it from attracting researchers and innovators.

“The industry has not done a good job of improving science literacy and awareness among the general public,” McGregor said.

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