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 Old 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 Old 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 comprises combines, sprayers and tractors guided by satellites. The seeds, fertilizers and pesticides that are 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.
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 in a downtown urban centre, 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 and nutritious lunch.
So what has modern agriculture done for consumers?
Let’s tackle affordability. By Feb. 9, 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.
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 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 16 other developed Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations. Canada’s food safety ranked the highest of all the countries examined.
Modern Canadian agriculture has a 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.
Agriculture needs to give time, money and co-ordination to help spread this good story.
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.
Cam Dahl is president of Cereals Canada.