Farmers not feeling the love as food demand grows

At most agricultural conferences, at least one presenter typically lays out statistics on the burgeoning world population and the huge increase in food production required.

This came up a number of times at the recent Canadian Global Crops Symposium in Winnipeg. The world population will grow by billions and a higher percentage will be middle class buying more and better food.

By some estimates, 70 percent more food production will be needed by 2050 on basically the same farmland area we’re presently using.

The message: we need to continue to adopt technology and ramp up production to feed the world.

So far, world food production has managed to outpace consumption, but the numbers point to it being a herculean effort in the years ahead.

Funny how this message always comes from agriculture and not from consumers. We hear it at agricultural conferences, but not on the national news.

In fact, the message coming to farmers from the marketplace is decidedly different. We’re not getting any sense of urgency from consumers. We’re not exactly feeling the love.

Look at China. They’re a huge importer, but their actions are often designed to make business more difficult

Chinese officials are threatening to move the maximum dockage requirement on imported canola to one percent from the long-standing, internationally recognized level of 2.5 per cent. Their stated reason is a decrease in blackleg disease risk, an argument with a flimsy scientific basis.

Many observers believe lowering the standard is more about China wanting to slow imports as it reduces its own strategic grain reserves

Sure, we can clean canola to a one percent standard given enough effort, but it would seriously slow system capacity.

Meanwhile, China has been slow to approve new biotechnology traits and maximum residue limits haven’t been set for a number of crop protection products. This hampers the adoption of technologies aimed at growing more food.

Here in North America, many of our well-fed consumers are demanding labels on genetically modified foods. Some major food manufacturers have adopted GM labelling so their products can continue to be sold in tiny Vermont.

To this point, the American political system has failed to come up with a national approach to ward off a patchwork of state laws.

Rumblings are happening here in Canada too with Quebec and Ontario considering what they can do to push the labelling issue. How will the Trudeau Liberals react?

Labels won’t tell consumers anything useful.

What definition of genetic engineering do you use and what’s the threshold content before a food needs to be labelled? It isn’t really about food safety or even the right to know. It’s a push from the anti-technology crowd.

Consumers are also saying they want more humane treatment of farm animals or at least what coincides with their view of humane treatment. And no antibiotics or growth promoters because they sound nasty.

So, should we be adopting technology to produce more and avoid massive starvation at some point in the not-too-distant future? Or should we listen to the marketplace, use inferior technology and grow less in order to capture higher prices?

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