We must say more than ‘just trust me’

We hear plenty about how we have to put our farming messages and our actions on display for the world. That is, if we want to renew the social licences to continue our lives in agriculture.

Depending on how the number is sliced and diced, we have about three percent of the population of Canada involved in agriculture.

In Europe, it is about 4.5 percent and in the United States it is closer to two. It is higher in other parts of the world, but declining fast. China has a program to move another 300 million of its citizens from rural areas to cities by 2030, and around the globe, new technology is helping farmers shift from perilous-subsistence to perilous-commercial operations, further concentrating farmer numbers.

If the majority of folks, even if just a chunk of them — say 35 percent, which is often enough to elect a Canadian government — were to decide they didn’t like the job we are doing, it could mean major changes to our abilities to keep doing it. Even though nearly all of us are doing it right, good science is a tough sell these days.

Good economics too can be tough to market to our fellow citizens because both interfere with the red-barn and farmers markets visions that dance in many urban voters’ understandings of healthy agriculture. Agriculture must find better ways to tell our tales.

The mission of feeding the world’s population of nine billion people has been reduced to a slogan from overuse. As well, an apparent oversupply of commodities that undermines that message and the problem of having 800 million malnourished people on the planet go under-reported, have given rise to thoughts that food shortages were likely just empty threats.

But, and it is a big but, there is something far larger coming our way. Failing as they might be, our current messages are only a first bale in a big stack that we are going to have to make in short order.

Synthetic biology is a far-bigger sell than GM plants, sustainable-scale cropping or intensive livestock production.

What can we tell the 98 percenters about engineered plants that fix most of their own nitrogen? What can we say about crops with built-in enzymes that nearly process themselves into energy, low-emissions livestock or designer plant proteins that mimic meat, all of which improve the planet’s abilities to feed all its people?

The story likely starts with “this is an acre and from it ….”

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