Saturday, 4 February 2017

Meeting in the Middle: Canada's Ag Day 2017

   I've been invited to a night of food and discussions in Olds Alberta. The idea is to bring farmers and consumers together on February 16th, 2017. 150 people from all walks of life and with very differing backgrounds were asked to attend. We will be at a table together experiencing a meal made from some of our products and encouraged to start a dialogue about agriculture. I'm expecting some hard questions that evening and so that I feel better prepared I thought I'd go through some of the ones that I think may come up. So here's a few of the questions I would ask.

What made you want to be a farmer?

  This should be an easy one but to better understand the kind of person your talking to it's an important question. I grew up in the country 4 miles from the nearest small town.  My days as a child were spent out in the yard pretending to drive tractors or helping my dad with the cattle. I would ride to the field with my dad or brother and watch how things ran and often how they were repaired. As I got older I was able to help out more and more. I would go on to have a few off farm jobs but continued to help farm. I had some other opportunities but farming was in my blood and it wasn't just because I grew up on a farm it was because I loved every part of it, I loved the outdoors and watching things grow and knowing I was part of something bigger.

Where do you see farming going in the future? Can farmers feed an ever growing world population?

  There has been constant advancements in agriculture. Since I started farming we have seen the onset of reduced tillage, the use of GPS to make us more efficient along with many new seed varieties that have increased production. Food production will always require farmers in one form or another and the next big thing may not have even been thought of yet and that's what makes it exciting and why we need to be progressive and stay on the cutting edge. Can farmers continue to feed an ever growing population? this answer depends on many variables, some that are out of our control. Farming will evolve but with decreasing amounts of farm land in the world, production growth will need to outpace the growth in population. I would hope that through science, new farming practices and the Ag sector as a whole we can find a solution. As long as were allowed to use all the tools given us it can be accomplished.

 What about this whole GMO thing? Celebrity vs. Science

  This is one I dread! Consumers are bombarded with celebrities and labeling on a daily basis telling them that anything Genetically modified is bad. Scientific voices have become secondary in a world that depends so much on what science has given us. Just try googling GMO! Well known people with little or no knowledge can speak their opinion and millions trust them. So how can me as one small farmer from Alberta convince them to trust the science and know that rigorous testing of these seed varieties and technologies have shown they are not harmful. That maybe they should trust the scientific consensus and not the voices that wouldn't be heard if it weren't for their celebrity. Genetically modified should not be a bad word. It should be seen for what it is, a chance for a world where we can feed everyone and help developing countries by giving them the ability to grow golden rice to stop blindness and death in children because of vitamin A deficiency. Why do we have people blocking a grain from being grown that could save thousands of children because these people have made the choice to not trust the proven science. Why?

Organic vs Conventional farming?

  This is a non issue for me. There is demand for both and it's no different than Wheat vs. Barley. If demand continues then both sides will survive. Do I see poorer countries importing organic food to feed their people in the future, I doubt it. But in more affluent areas of the world where people are willing to pay a premium then I say have at it. I would never question someone who has chosen to eat organic, that is their choice. Just like I hope they would acknowledge my choice to buy conventional products.

Is the food I grow safe?

  Everything I use on my crops has been tested time and time again to make sure that it is safe. I follow all labels to the letter and only spray when required. I am not only producing your food I'm producing my families as well!

  These and many other tough questions that I never thought of will get asked. But maybe more important are the questions I should be asking as a farmer.

What do you think about farmers? Does farming hold the same respect in today's society that it once did?

If we've lost your trust, how do we earn it back?

Why do you make the food choices you do?

Would you be willing to come for a visit to my farm?

  There will be lots of questions and discussion around the tables that evening and maybe that's where it really needs to start. We live in a society of large famous voices in the era of social media, these speakers of opinions and not facts. Maybe it's time to take it back to the basics and meet face to face, one farmer learning from one consumer and vice versa.

  Maybe if we meet in the middle and ask all the hard questions and get around all the rhetoric maybe we can move forward and finally come away with a better understanding of one another. 



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