Innovation in agriculture

PERCEPTION IS NOT REALITY

THERE ARE A lot of misconceptions about Canadian agriculture. According to a 2013 study from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Canadians think that agriculture lacks innovation, is shrinking, unsustainable, potentially environmentally harmful, and moving away from the family business model.


 
That is why the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) recently conducted a new survey focused on four key realities of farming to help combat public perception of the industry and highlight agriculture’s innovation, growth, and sustainability.

The CFIB represents over 109,000 small and independent businesses across Canada, including 7,200 independently owned and operated agri-businesses, the majority of which are primary producers.
 
“As a proud business voice for agriculture, CFIB wanted to bust the misconceptions Canadians have about farming in Canada,” says Mandy D’Autremont, senior policy analyst, agri-business and Saskatchewan. “There is no better way to correct Canadians’ misconceptions about farming than by directly asking farmers what they are doing in their business. I think Canadians will be pleasantly surprised by what farmers have to say in our survey.”

Earlier this year, the CFIB conducted a survey of 523 producers including livestock, crop, and fruit and vegetable farmers. Respondents were asked about their business plans, growth in their business, environmental concerns, and their succession plans.

The results, released in October, paint a picture of a very forward-thinking and high- tech industry, with over half planning to adopt new innovative technologies and practices in the next three years. Farmers already use modern technology like robotic milking for dairy cows and GPS tracking systems for field work, but they are always looking for new ways to improve efficiency.

Troy Gilbert, a poultry and cash crop farmer in Listowel, Ontario has GPS technology with auto steer on some of his machinery. He says, “it gives me the ability to plant and spread late into the night and still do a good job. The GPS with auto steer on my sprayer allows me to spray a lot more accurately with a lot less overlap. The chemical savings and applying it properly is beneficial not only to the farmer but environment as well.”

From an environmental perspective, nearly all farmers surveyed are taking action to protect the environment. Top practices include investing in more energy-efficient or environmentally-friendly equipment, improved management of hazardous products, protecting water sources and waterways, and adopting energy conservation practices.

The agriculture industry is also growing; nearly all respondents plan on expanding or maintaining the size of their operation. With growth comes employment, and as the industry expands, so will its two million person workforce. As some of the farming population ages and begins succession planning, most will transfer their business to a family member, therefore keeping the farm family-run. These answers directly contradict popular views that agriculture is shrinking and moving towards corporate organizations.

Gilbert has changed his operation to make things run more smoothly and efficiently. He says farms are getting bigger but most of them are still family-run farms who hire additional employees.

“I too, in the near future, will be looking for a full-time employee. Some farmers grow to have enough to bring their sons and daughters into the farming business,” says Gilbert.

“The realities of farming may surprise many Canadians, and we hope it makes them proud of our strong agriculture sector. When Canadians think of farmers, I hope they think about how our producers are amongst the most tech savvy, environmentally conscious entrepreneurs in Canada,” says D’Autremont. “Farmers are excited about growing their businesses and maintaining, what is for many of them, a family tradition that spans decades. It’s a positive story that bears repeating to shatter the myths and misconceptions some Canadians hold about our food production system.”

Luckily, there is also a wide range of awareness campaigns designed to bring factual information about agriculture to the forefront. Groups like Farm and Food Care provide accurate information to the public about all sectors of agriculture, while Farm Credit Canada’s Agriculture More Than Ever campaign focuses on improving dialogue and perceptions of the industry and provides tools to help start the conversation.

“Awareness campaigns are important in highlighting the modern face of farming, but beyond awareness, governments need to foster agricultural competitiveness — including reducing red tape and taxes, and placing a greater focus on research and innovation,” says D’Autremont.

It is important for the agriculture industry to ensure the right information is getting to people who need it. The CFIB’s new report illustrates how different realities are from public perception and how important it is to correct them. •