Lack of knowledge about agriculture still rife in Ottawa

In agriculture, there’s a lot of talk about the urban-rural divide.

Many conversations within the farm community are about how too many people in this country know next to nothing about how the food on their plates gets there.

Public trust, sustainability and farm-to-fork have all become popular catchphrases as the agriculture industry tries to appease consumer concerns — founded or not.

The thing is, the urban-rural divide transcends the consumer.

The disconnect from the farm isn’t limited to people’s kitchen tables; it’s also found on Parliament Hill and in legislatures across the country.

In Ottawa, MPs and non-agricultural influencers alike are constantly shocked to hear that the sector contributes more than $100 billion to the national GDP — nor are many aware of the fact one in eight jobs in this country is tied to agriculture.

Many of these individuals are responsible for making important policy decisions, some of which affect agriculture.

It’s no secret that the agriculture community is frustrated with some of the policy decisions that have been made in recent years.

Pesticide registrations, concessions included in trade deals, proposed tax changes and regulatory reviews have all triggered vocal responses, to varying degrees, from farm groups that say the government doesn’t understand agriculture.

This isn’t to say that governments and industry should always agree on policy. There are times when stubbornness is required on either side, a reality both sides acknowledge.

However, a closer look shows that often, when governments are forced to backtrack, it has been on the farm front — a reality that suggests a possible knowledge gap.

Case in point: the Trudeau government’s proposed tax changes that, if approved, would have made it very hard to keep the family farm in the family. Those changes were later amended.

Then there’s the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s decision to re-start its review of certain pesticides used within the horticulture industry after they were initially set to be stripped from use. Industry had argued the decision was not science-based.

Remember the grain backlog? Before the grain stopped moving, nearly every amendment from shippers had been rejected by the government. By the end, many of the major requests had been adopted.

Today, fewer and fewer MPs and bureaucrats have farming experience, an unsurprising figure given the fact that farmers make up only two percent of the population.

It’s a fact that’s unlikely to change any time soon; it’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s worth remembering.

Canada is a year away from another federal election, one whose outcome at the moment remains unclear.

Every vote will count.

Election day might be a year out, but the campaign has already begun, with parties trying to distinguish themselves.

As such, every sector will be clambering for platform promises and campaign commitments from the various political parties. Agriculture is not unique to this.

The sector’s numbers, while powerful, don’t speak for themselves. Bridging the rural-urban gap will take time, effort, patience and open-mindedness from farmers, consumers and politicians on all sides.

Come next October, there will be new MPs in the House. Many of them will likely know very little about farming, agri-food and agriculture.

Canada is well-positioned to be a leader on the global agriculture stage. It’s an objective many feel is well within Canada’s reach. After all, the Trudeau government has challenged the agriculture sector to grow its exports to $75 billion by 2025.

Getting there will take ingenuity, compromise, patience and teamwork. Those conversations should start happening now.

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