Agriculture should be seen as positive

There are some organizations that don’t like modern agriculture. I really don’t understand why.

My personal hero is Dr. Norman Borlaug, who led the green revolution, which lifted millions of people out of poverty and provided food for millions more who would have otherwise starved.

The green revolution and the many innovations that have followed are the product of science. Because of this, most of us involved in agriculture tend to rely on scientific arguments to counter those who want to shut down modern practices and tools.

However, the language of science does not lend itself to telling our story, and agriculture has a fantastic story to tell. We need to adjust our approach.

We can’t dismiss those who want to turn back the clock just because we might not understand them. Campaigns aimed at eliminating crop protection products such as glyphosate, or inputs like fertilizer, are tapping into an emotional appeal that is real and is driving consumers.

Pulling out science to say “you’re wrong” gives some personal satisfaction. However, the approach does little to counter the activists. Instead, we too need to reach beyond science and talk to consumers in their day-to-day life. To do this, we need to stand up and talk about what agriculture has delivered.

A Monty Python bit asked “what have the Romans ever done for us?” To paraphrase, what has modern farming done for us?

Well, there is all this food, of course. The developed world spends less time and energy putting food on the table than any other group of people in the history of the planet. Food has never been safer or cheaper.

Activists say we could feed the world without modern agricultural practices. But reverting to the time before Dr. Borlaug would mean less, but more expensive food, and greater hunger for many that have abundance today.

But what about the environment? Isn’t all this food coming at an environmental price that future generations will have to pay?

Well no, actually. Here too, agriculture needs to stand up and be proud of our sustainability record.

To me, sustainability means growing food in a way that gives a good living to farmers and leaves the land and water in better shape for those who will be farming after us. Canadian farmers are doing just that.

In the last 20 years, the amount of fuel used to produce a tonne of wheat has gone down by 39 percent. At the same time, farmers are producing more grain from every acre of land.

This is an incredible story, especially in a time when governments around the world are searching for policies and programs to reduce energy use.

Each year, Canadian farmers are increasing soil organic matter and every bit of that increase is sequestered carbon. Farmers do this without any government regulations forcing them to action.

Modern agriculture is also reducing soil erosion. Unlike the dust storms of the 1930s, Saskatchewan does not blow into Ontario anymore and we have modern agriculture to thank.

Who should be telling this good news story? Our best spokespeople are farmers themselves. Producers are trusted by consumers. The public wants to know why farmers do what they do.

Reaching out to customers and sharing agriculture’s good news story should be part of every farm’s business plan. If we in the industry are not telling our story, others will speak for agriculture and we may not like what they say. Some want to take away modern farming tools.

By proudly speaking up, we preserve the gains of the past and help drive forward to a more sustainable and profitable future.

Social media gives farmers an outlet to tell their story. This should become a tool as familiar on the farm as a tractor.

Cam Dahl is president of Cereals Canada.

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