Book offers thorough examination of agriculture

Canadian Agriculture in the 21st Century, Change and Challenges was written by Marvin S. Anderson, an agricultural economist with a wide range of experience who lives and farms in northeastern Alberta. 
| Screencap via MarvinAnderson.com

Once upon a time, people having a discussion or even a disagreement would base their opinions on an agreed upon set of facts.

In this modern age of instantly available information, it seems that facts don’t matter as much anymore.

I followed a recent Twitter exchange apparently sparked by my column last week regarding AgriStability and crop insurance. One participant was adamant that crop insurance didn’t cost governments anything, that it was actually a cash grab by government.

When other participants tried to explain that crop insurance premiums are heavily supported by provincial governments and the federal government and that governments pay all the administrative costs, he was undeterred, saying you can’t believe governments and how could anyone know for sure.

Maybe this is all part of the legacy of United States President Donald Trump, where if you don’t like a statement you just declare that it’s fake news. Certainly the internet offers any sort of truth you want, including some amazingly wild conspiracy theories that have gained a cult following.

Even for rational people, it can be difficult to find information in the context you need. While we live in a world of apps and have become fond of saying, “there’s an app for that,” for agricultural facts specific to Canada, there’s now a book for that.

Canadian Agriculture in the 21st Century, Change and Challenges was written by Marvin S. Anderson, an agricultural economist with a wide range of experience who lives and farms in northeastern Alberta.

Anderson has produced an amazingly comprehensive work. It should be required reading for agriculture students, politicians and anyone who wants to discuss agricultural policy and trends.

The main headings in the table of contents touch just about everything in Canadian agriculture: Historic Overview; A Farm Profile; Agricultural Production and Marketing; International Trade; Agri-Industry and Value-Added; Rural Socio-Economic Profile; Agricultural Organizations; Role of Government; Resource Management in Agriculture; Climate Change and Agriculture; Related Pollution Issues and Mitigation Measures; Organic Crops, Functional Foods and GMOs; and The Future of Agriculture in Canada.

Most people are unlikely to read the 250 plus pages from start to finish, but there’s an extensive index to help find specific information. And just in case you’re wary of fake news, there are more than 300 notes and references.

From genome editing to irrigation to export data, it’s all there written at an intelligent but easily understood level. I can’t imagine how many countless hours of work must have been involved in putting it together.

These sorts of resource books can become dated quickly and this one will suffer the same fate, but much of the data is amazingly recent. This book will have a longer utility than most.

If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for that person in your life who really cares about the future of agriculture and likes to have discussions based on facts, this book may fit your needs.

It’s available in hardcover and paperback from various bookstores, but the least expensive route is probably to email the author at marvanderson360@gmail.com.

By the way, page 173 of the book shows a pie graph of the direct farm support received by Canadian farmers. Crop insurance accounts for nearly 45 percent of the total, more than AgriStability and AgriInvest combined. Maybe that info will be viewed as fake news by someone with a Twitter account, but for the rest of us, it can form the basis for informed discussion.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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