Misinformation requires teamwork

The industry is urged to do more to educate Canadians about modern agriculture.  |  File photo

The agriculture industry is facing intense challenges.

The impacts of climate volatility are increasing every year. Some areas of the country received too much moisture, and others far too little. Meanwhile, global trade disputes have closed or otherwise disrupted markets with major players, such as China and Italy.

As an industry, we’re used to weathering storms — figuratively and literally — but ask any farmer and they’ll tell you that doing it successfully takes teamwork. That’s why our industry needs to get behind action to keep producing healthy, safe and affordable food to feed a growing global population.

While some of the challenges we face are out of the immediate control of farmers and the industry, there are others we can control, or at least influence.

Among them is battling persistent consumer confusion about farming, which has a detrimental impact on modern farming practices and our ability to produce safe, healthy, affordable food.

Public trust related to food production is low. In new research from the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, just one in three Canadians believe this country’s food system is headed in the right direction.

The rising cost of food is the top issue prompting this anxiety, followed by the worry that we can’t keep healthy food affordable.

I’ve heard this sentiment from friends and family, and it concerns me, but I know it’s within our control as an industry to combat misinformation.

In part, there’s an information gap at play. Despite a whopping 91 percent of Canadians admitting to knowing little or nothing about modern farming practices, many still hold strong opinions based on misconceptions.

As an example, 80 percent agree that organic food is healthier than conventionally grown food, which isn’t true.

Organic and conventional farming both have a role to play in offering consumers more choice and variety, whether that’s being able to provide quality berries in winter or healthy tropical fruits like bananas.

Or, take GMOs, which are the result of plant breeders using biotechnology to move desirable genes from one organism to another. Many Canadians are apprehensive about GMOs, but don’t realize that they have been safely used for decades. The result is crops with increased weather and disease resistance requiring fewer inputs, like water, which is in turn better for the environment.

Admittedly, BASF hasn’t done enough to educate Canadians about modern agriculture, but we are now stepping up.

We can’t do it on our own, and luckily, we aren’t starting from zero. The industry has already made strides, thanks to initiatives like CropLife Canada’s educational campaigns around modern farming.

Fears about our food system’s future aside, Canadians do have a healthy respect for agriculture. Overall, Canadians have a 60 percent favourable view of agriculture in this country, and while they admit to being underinformed, they’re also interested in learning more.

This should encourage us as an industry to foster dialogue, answer questions and correct misconceptions.

Modern farming uses incredible scientific advancements to produce nutritious, safe food and modern technologies improve yields and help to bring the cost of food down.

For instance, canola farmers and consumers alike are benefiting from seed hybrids that reduce pod shatter while being more resistant to clubroot disease.

These advancements help provide a safe food supply and contribute to Canada being the No. 1 canola-producing and exporting country in the world, contributing to over $26 billion to the Canadian economy each year.

Our farmers have enough to worry about with severe weather and trade disputes, but there’s nothing stopping us from building a stronger understanding of modern farming practices among Canadians.

While this industry will never be completely free of challenges, some are well within our control and we can continue finding solutions, if we work together.

Jonathan Sweat is vice-president of business management, Agricultural Solutions Canada, for BASF Canada.

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