Not just a day, but ‘the 21st century,’ belongs to agriculture

Canada’s Agriculture Day descended on Ottawa Feb. 16 with producers, stakeholders and politicians all taking a moment to celebrate the sector’s contributions.

The day’s events kicked off with a lunch hosted by Farm Credit Canada at the downtown Marriott Hotel, where farm leaders mingled with politicians and guests as they reflected on the past and considered the sector’s future.

The general consensus in the room was that Canadian agriculture needs to do a better job of telling its story to the Canadian public — a message FCC’s Michael Hoffort doubled down on in his keynote address.

“We don’t talk enough about the kind of food that we produce in our country,” he said as several heads in the room nodded in agreement.

Canada’s food safety record is revered internationally, Hoffort said, while the country’s agriculture sector is considered number two in the world for sustainability. Canada drops one spot, to number three, in terms of overall sustain-ability thanks to food waste and over-nutrition.

Consumers don’t know those statistics, he added, and it’s a conversation that could help Canada as it tries to position itself as an international food provider going forward.

Hoffort’s talk came as Ottawa is being urged to invest in Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector to spur economic growth.

The council’s report has been called a landmark moment for Canadian agriculture by farm leaders. However, achieving those targets will require much public support, industry says.

That’s where Agriculture Day’s “talk about what you do” message comes in.

FCC invited local high school students to the Agriculture Day event, which included a panel of young urban Canadians who have some connection to food but not a farm background.

That panel saw many of the consumer concerns about agriculture brought to the forefront.

Tanvi Pandya, a grade 12 student from southern Saskatchewan, told attendees she wants to know that animals are treated well. She shared a story about how she liked hearing from a farmer about how he cares for his livestock and found reassurance in the fact he told her he often gets up in the wee hours of the morning to check on his animals.

Meanwhile, Fatouma Mohammed, an Ottawa teen involved in a local project called Thirteen Museli, reminded the room not everyone thinks about agriculture. Thirteen Museli sees inner city teens work to mix and market museli (a kind of granola), which is an initiative that has been hugely successful in Ottawa.

“People just don’t think about it,” she said, adding Thirteen Museli has shown her first hand how interested consumers are in local products.

Canadian politicians and farmers tried hard Feb. 16 to get agriculture on people’s minds, taking to social media to share the sector’s story.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, Canadian businessperson Arlene Dickinson, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal were only some of the hundreds of people who were tweeting about the special agriculture day.

The event’s hashtag, #cdnagday, was trending nationally on Twitter for most of the day as videos and photos were shared.

Politicians repeatedly raised the event in the House of Commons.

“Canadian consumers should be very proud of the hard work farmers and ranchers do for them every day. They are here year after year providing safe and affordable food for Canadian families,” Conservative agriculture critic David Anderson told the House before question period.

“Agriculture in Canada has a bright and promising future.”

His federal ministerial counterpart agreed.

“Canadian farmers produce the best products in the world,” MacAulay told his fellow MPs.

Back at the Marriott, the minister shared his wish for the sector.

“I truly believe the 21st century can belong to Canadian agriculture.”

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