The Big Picture: Spotlight on Agriculture

WEEK-LONG SERIES BRINGS AGRICULTURE TO THE DOORSTEP OF CANADIANS

it’s common in the agricultural industry to hear discussions and strategy planning centered on finding ways to share information about our industry with non-farmers. Although people are increasingly interested in where and how their food is grown, it’s often a struggle for farmers and farm organizations to gain profile in the non-farming media.

However, it seems times may be changing. At the end of November last year (just before this issue went to print) the Globe and Mail dedicated an entire week to feature the many opportunities and challenges of Canadian agriculture. Although the industry was not always portrayed in a positive light, the ability to get the attention of nearly the entire nation for a week is something quite extraordinary.

As a result of this coverage, approximately 2.5 million Canadians woke up every morning and read about some aspect of agriculture for an entire week. Presumably, conversations on the topics presented in the paper were started in coffee shops and around water coolers across the nation.

Although we can’t monitor every Starbucks and Tim Hortons, the conversation is happening online. All of the articles were posted online at theglobeandmail.com and were open for comment. It is true that anonymous internet comments can sometimes be a showcase of the angry and the misinformed, this was not the case with many of the articles online. The public, both farmers and non-farmers alike, came out in force to share their opinions on the articles with intelligent insight into the topics. The overwhelming opinion is that Canadians respect and want to support family farmers. It was also interesting to learn from the comments that people are genuinely interested in learning about all aspects of farming including, the business of a family farm, how the global markets work and where Canadian agriculture is headed.

exploring the issues
The week-long series focused on the “global marketplace for food, and how Canada has yet to come to terms with the regulatory, economic and technological challenges of global food.”

The series tackled topics such as making family farms profitable, corporate investment in farm land, food safety and traceability and government spending with as much balance as possible when discussing such complex issues. Though many will disagree with some of the assertions in the editorials and commentaries, the fact that these discussions were brought forward to the public speak highly of our industry’s importance to the country.

One particularly striking article focused on Canadian agriculture’s seeming decline over the past several decades. Globe and Mail writer, Paul Waldie, called on facts such as Canada’s slip from third to ninth in total food exports in the globe in the past 15 years to backup his argument that Canada is falling behind in the world of agriculture. He also highlights startling statistics about the debt-to-income ratio of Canadian farmers – which is five times higher than for US farmers – along with the apparent fact that the industry is declining despite increasing government spending.

Another article in the series has a much more positive look at our industry. The editorial titled “The hunger for more ambition in Canadian agriculture,” underlines that with the right policy environment and government initiatives, Canadian agriculture can thrive both locally and internationally.

Although the series failed to highlight many of the agricultural industry’s successes – like our reduction of pesticide use by 50 percent in the past 20 years – and brought attention to some of our controversial issues – like government subsidies and supply management – it seems the country has noticed the importance of farming. •

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THE ONTARIO GRAIN FARMER magazine strives to be the number one source of information for our province’s grain farmers. With a balanced mix of production, marketing, technology, research, and general interest articles, we provide farmers with valuable information in an easy-to-read format. As the flagship publication of Grain Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Grain Farmer is a magazine that is made by farmers, for farmers. The magazine is an important tool that supports the organization’s vision to drive the Ontario grain industry to become a global leader.