Farmers need to flip some of today’s annoying consumer demands into tomorrow’s advantages, says an agricultural representative turned full-time farmer.
Embracing those consumer priorities might be one of the few things that can make up for the Prairies’ landlocked position.
“What if the new quality isn’t just talking about the protein content of our wheat, or the size, shape and colour of our lentils?” posed Lee Moats, a long-time agronomist who switched to production agriculture and now operates a family farm at Riceton, Sask.
“But (what if) it’s talking about their carbon footprint, or talking about their water use, or talking about their contribution to biodiversity?”
Moats spoke at the Canadian Crops Convention, providing a perspective on where tomorrow’s farm might need to be. He argued that the old efficiency and quality measures might miss the mark for what is becoming most valuable in developing high-value food markets.
For instance, perhaps putting effort into opposing the carbon tax is a distraction from embracing the opportunity for producing low-carbon food.
“With food, maybe we should start talking more about carbon footprint,” said Moats.
“Imagine if beside maximum caloric intake (there was) a maximum daily foodprint. Maybe it’s the new quality.”
The development of a number of plant protein fractionation plants on the Prairies makes real a dream for many farms, where high value ingredients are created on the western Canadian plains rather than in far-away markets.
Those plants are being created to serve burgeoning demand for specialized plant and protein products, and farmers should similarly look to tap into that growing demand.
Farmers should endeavour to supply “qualities that consumers are increasingly demanding in their food products. Maybe that’s our competitive advantage that we can use to make up for some of the disadvantages we have by being in the centre of a continent,” said Moats.
“That’s the market pull we need maybe, to pull ourselves away from trying to compete with a least-cost producer to competing on a whole different level.”
Moats said there is also a danger in ignoring consumer concerns about modern farming practices.
Glyphosate has come under scrutiny and farmers should figure out how to operate without it, in case the product is restricted in the future.
Other practices also draw public skepticism and farmers must prepare for more scrutiny.
“We’re going to (have) to tell the world about what we’re doing so that we can get their support for it,” said Moats.
Above all, consumers want to know that their food is healthy, sustainable and ethically produced.
“We should be looking strongly at what the customer’s interests are, and we should be supplying that.”