Livestock sector vital part of big agriculture picture

Agricultural producers tend to have strong beliefs about their independence. However, commercial agriculture is really a team sport. No one element can be left behind without harming the whole.

In recent weeks a poll of Canadians revealed that our fellow citizens support agriculture as an industry pretty well but the animal side of the business is not as popular with them as are plants. This is especially true among younger people, according to the survey.

In the Grassroots Public Affairs agricultural poll done on behalf of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, about 80 percent of respondents said government support for fruit and vegetable agriculture was important to them. They ranked it a four out of five.

Support for field crop producers scored highly with 70 percent of respondents, while about 65 percent said dairy and poultry support was important.

But other livestock did not do as well. Support for beef was ranked important by 56 percent, and for pork by 51 percent of respondents.

The younger the demographic, the less they deemed support for the livestock sector to be important.

Fruit and vegetable growers should recognize their popularity with the public and take care to protect it. That includes responsible use of insecticides and fertilizers that could end up in public water. Those issues can get the whole agriculture sector hit with a broom that would also sweep away tools, profitability and public support for all.

All producers should consider what poorer levels of public support for animal agriculture mean for the industry as a whole.

Agriculture in Canada is an interdependent business. We export about a third of our crops, depending on the year. The rest is used domestically in one way or another and much of that goes into livestock.

All that canola we crush, grain we clean and off-grade crop we harvest ends up making the meat and dairy Canadians consume and, in some cases, export.

An unloved, unsupported livestock community will produce fewer sales opportunities for the grains and oilseeds industry.

Over the past year the fragile nature of the agriculture and food supply chain, and the role of government, have been in the forefront of the industry’s concerns. Producer associations have focused on government supports and lending in the face of trade and pandemic issues.

Public officials are waging a quiet war against a potentially devastating hog disease. Trade fights with China and the United States squabble on. The constant international to-and-fro over regulatory matters, which are often trade issues in disguise, is being dealt with.

Those are public dollars at work.

Over the past decade, farm groups and industry have increased investment in public communications in an effort to educate and inform Canadians, as consumers as well as citizens, about how agriculture does its business.

Debunking the myths about animal, land and environmental abuse hasn’t always been an expense-line item for the industry. Dairy and poultry were earlier investors and have seen some dividends. Beef and hog producers have promoted the health and quality of their products but their role in animal care is a more recent investment.

The results of this latest poll show us once again that younger Canadians need to better understand the practices of their nation’s producers, no matter what commodity they grow.

Significant efforts are needed to support teachers on the front lines and in curriculum development, with educational tools and opportunities to meet with farmers. Failure to educate future generations about the importance of agriculture is a risk we cannot afford to take.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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