Accepting technology

FROM THE CEO'S DESK

Barry Senft, CEO, Grain Farmers of Ontario

FARMERS HAVE AN innovative spirit which favours the adoption of new technology. Over the past few decades we have embraced the use of GPS and auto steer in our tractors, advanced application techniques which allow us to get better results from our crop inputs, and genetic advancements in the seeds we plant.

The trouble is, we haven’t done a very good job of explaining to the general public how and why we use the new technology we do. And as we are coming to realize, science isn’t a good enough defense anymore.

As farmers, we know the technology we use allows us to produce more food on less land, helps us be better environmental stewards, and creates safer working conditions for our families and employees.

However, there is a saying that perception is reality — and unfortunately, it is perception that guides many consumers’ decisions about their diet, their general beliefs about farming, and their ideals about the safety of certain technology. And the current perception is that modern agriculture, for example genetic modification of crops, is bad.

New trait technology continues to be developed, but if we don’t properly explain the benefits that it provides, we won’t be able to use it. We have seen strong evidence of this already within the European Union where misconceptions over the safety of genetically modified products stalls the approval of any new biotech traits that have already received approval in other jurisdictions.

At our recent Annual General Meeting, we heard from farmers who want us to focus more of our outreach efforts on educating people in urban centres. We have achieved some success in this through the use of our Growing Connections trailer exhibit and the Grain Discovery Zone with an increased presence at more urban venues and increased attention in the media. But more needs to be done.

Farm and Food Care, Crop Life Canada, Farm Credit Canada, and individual commodity groups and agricultural associations all have campaigns of their own; and there continues to be provincial and national organizations formed to “take on the issue”. While they should be applauded for all of the work that has been done so far, an industry-wide campaign or strategy is lacking. It’s as though we have individually been throwing everything we have against the wall and hoping some of it sticks. It’s obvious this isn’t working anymore.

I believe the agricultural industry as a whole needs to be more strategic in communicating modern day farming techniques. Activist groups who oppose GM and pesticide use are very strategic in how they get their story told – we need to be even more strategic in how we tell our own story. Instead of everyone doing their own thing and promoting their own cause, farm groups, industry, and other stakeholders have to get together to promote a unified message that provides an accurate picture of modern farming, how and why we use technology, and the confidence we have in the safety and value of the agricultural products we produce.

We can do better — we absolutely need to do better. Failing that, we don’t need to speculate the result. We are seeing signs of it already. •

About Barry Senft 62 Articles
CEO, Grain Farmers of Ontario