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New opportunities emerge to connect consumers and farmers

On Tuesday, the agriculture sector put a lot of effort into pumping up Canada’s Ag Day, an initiative designed to raise the profile of those who grow and raise our food.

About 500 people from the sector descended on Ottawa to hear the federal minister of agriculture and food and other speakers give their perspectives on the state of the industry.

Across the country, thousands of supporters posted selfies of themselves on their farms, or of the bounty they’ve received from farmers’ hard work.

The hash tag #CdnAgDay was reported to be among the top trending social media hash tags in Toronto. All in all, it looks like the effort to get agriculture to stand just a little bit taller succeeded.

Now comes the next phase – that is, seizing on the momentum of the day and providing a newly attentive public with some substance.  That addresses a growing need to address consumers’ interest in where their food comes from and how its produced.

Production practices are particularly foreign to consumers. Assumptions exist that modern farmers who use technology are ruining the environment and turning their backs on sustainability.That’s not true, but it’s a broad brush that has its roots in the early introduction of agricultural biotechnology in the 1980s, when the industry assumed consumers were uninterested or unable to understand it and kept the whole thing quiet. Farmers of all commodities have been paying the price ever since.

Massive misinformation and misunderstanding also exists over farming’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration and climate change.Pockets of expertise exist, through organizations such as the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, and its regional branches.But overall, this whole area is a target for anti-agriculture activists.

So this week, to advance a more measured understanding of agriculture on many fronts, three new initiatives took flight.

First, farmers from across Canada took the climate change dialogue with the public (and with other farmers) to a new level with the launch of an alliance called Farmers for Climate Solutions. The group describes itselfas a collective of farmer organizations and supporters “who believe that agriculture must be part of the solution to climate change.”

In general, farmers want to have a say in any policies that have implications for their operations. Who wouldn’t? This new group says it will work to advance agricultural policies that help Canadian farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change, and add a realistic voice to conversations about agriculture’s impact on climate.

The group has a very accessible, clearly laid-out website. Check it out at  farmersforclimatesolutions.ca.

As well, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce announced on Canada’s Ag Day it was launching an agriculture and agri-food working group to support the industry’s ability to grow and reach new customers. It says it will initially focus on regulatory reform, international trade, and labour shortages – “three key areas where our country needs to improve the business environment if we are to reach our full potential as a global agricultural powerhouse,” it says.

And finally, on Wednesday the federal government announced it was giving nearly $790,000 to the Canadian Grains Council to develop a voluntary, farmer-led code of practice for Canadian grain production. This initiative will help farmers adopt the best practices to follow to be considered sustainable, for both market and public trust purposes.

The codes will cover a range of topics, including fertilizer management, pesticide use, soil management, farm workers and protection of wildlife habitat, as well as food safety and work safety. These are huge topics that concern consumers everywhere, including countries where we export.

Momentum is building. And every new measure helps farmers not only connect better with the public, but be better producers as well.

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