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Remember when Canada used to be considered “the north”?

I guess we still are when it comes to basketball and world geography.

But climate change is taking hold. For farming, we’re no longer the cold climate anomaly we used to be. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, our area in particular pioneered cold tolerant and early maturing crops, most notably corn and soybeans.

And while other areas in the southwest of the province are still and will always be warmer than us, areas much further north of us are laying claim to our former title.

For example, earlier this week, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay announced it had signed a memorandum of agreement for research and innovation commercialization in the agriculture and food.

Interestingly, that agreement is with Guelph-based Bioenterprise.

The university wants to become part of what’s being touted as Canada’s Food and Agri-Tech Engine. It says it’s taking “a very active role in the development of technologies, which will have specific benefit to the agricultural sector and has seen success in providing useful tools to primary producers and the procession sector.”

That includes evaluating formulations of fertilizer on new crops, small plot research studies for industry, biotechnological analytical services and evaluating technologies which have positive environmental implications.

Farmers everywhere can benefit from that knowledge.

“Lakehead University is making a statement that it is strongly focused on providing value and service back to the agricultural sector,” it says, which is also a goal of Bioenterprise.

The backbone of the food and agriculture engine is the University of Guelph and the Ontario Agri-food Innovation Alliance, a remarkable and productive arrangement between the university and the province’s agriculture ministry that stems from 125 years of working together, even before the university was formally established.

The agreement is dedicated to food safety, food production and plant, animal and human health, among other vitally important matters.

In April of 2018, the university and OMAFRA renewed the agreement for 10 years, resulting in an investment of almost $715 million. Knowledge generated though that kind of commitment helps all of Ontario agriculture and food prosper, and contributes to the knowledge base that helps researchers and farmers prosper in other jurisdictions, such as the North… and, in fact, the rest of the world.

A healthy farm economy can contribute significantly to the country’s new economic plan, which the prime minister is working towards. He’s set two weeks from now as a target date.

That’s prompted a group called Farmers for Climate Solutions to chime in with a report saying rebuilding the economy means supporting farmers to enhance climate resilience and mitigate emissions. The group, which is largely represented by what mainstream agriculture calls alternative agriculture, cites five ways to support farmers in advancing climate solutions.

It suggests making farms green-energy powerhouses, providing incentives for climate-friendly farming, helping innovative farmers mentor other farmers, rewarding farmers who reduce their climate risk, and supporting new and young farmers. Their report can be found here.

The key will continue to be balancing sustainable productivity with profitability. Various parts of the farm sector have different interpretations of how their members can make money while achieving or maintaining sustainability.

But they need to try to set aside their differences, particularly when it comes to accusations that conventional farming is not sustainable. Conventional farming changes all the time to pay attention to sustainability.

Consumers don’t want to hear about consternation among farmers, especially now. They want to know how everyone is pulling together to keep them fed.

And that’s what the agri-food sector needs to show Canadians – north, south, east and west.

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