There are some organizations that don’t like modern agriculture. I really don’t understand why. My personal hero is Dr. Norman Borlaug who led the green revolution, which lifted millions of people out of poverty and provided food for millions of more who would have otherwise starved.
The green revolution and the many innovations that have followed are the product of science. Because of this most of us involved in agriculture tend to rely on scientific arguments to counter those who want to shut down modern practices and tools. However, the language of science does not lend itself to telling our story, and agriculture has a fantastic story to tell. We need to adjust our approach.
We can’t dismiss those who want to turn back the clock just because we might not understand them.
Campaigns aimed at eliminating crop protection products like glyphosate, or inputs like fertilizer, are tapping into an emotional appeal that is real and is driving consumers.
Pulling out science to say “you’re wrong” does give some personal satisfaction. However, the approach does little to counter the activists. Instead we too need to reach beyond just science and talk to consumers in their day-to-day life. To do this we need to stand up and talk about what agriculture has delivered.
A Monty Python bit asked “what have the Romans ever done for us?” To paraphrase, what has modern farming done for us? Well there is all this food of course. The developed world spends less time and energy putting food on the table than any other group of people in the history of the planet. Food has never been safer or cheaper.
Activists say we could feed the world without modern agricultural practices. But reverting to the time before Dr. Borlaug would mean less, but more expensive, food, and greater hunger for many that have abundance today. Agriculture should stand up and be proud of the food we deliver.
But what about the environment? Isn’t all this food coming at an environmental price that future generations will have to pay? Well no, actually. Here too agriculture needs to stand up and be proud of our sustainability record.
What does sustainability mean to you? To me, it means growing food in a way that gives a good living to farmers and leaves the land and water in better shape for those who will be farming after us. Canadian farmers are doing just that.
Did you know that in the last twenty years the amount of fuel used to produce a tonne of wheat has gone down by thirty-nine percent? At the same time, farmers are producing more grain from every acre of land. This is an incredible story, especially in a time when governments around the world are searching for policies and programs to reduce energy use. Every year Canadian farmers are increasing soil organic matter. Why does this matter? Because every bit of that increase in soil organic matter is sequestered carbon. Farmers are locking away carbon while improving soil health. They do this without any government regulations forcing them to action. How many sectors of the economy can say this? Modern agriculture is also reducing soil erosion. Google “1930s dust storms” to get a picture of the environmental impact of farming the old way. Saskatchewan does not blow into Ontario anymore and we have modern agriculture to thank. This is a good news story that we should be shouting from the rooftops. Who should be telling this story? Our best spokespeople are farmers themselves. Producers are trusted by consumers. The public wants to know why farmers do what they do. And the interest is genuine. Why do you treat your seeds to protect your crop against insect infestations? What would it mean to the sustainability of your farm if these pesticides weren’t used? How has glyphosate facilitated conservation tillage? What does this mean to the health of your soils and the water around you? Why do you test the fertility of your land and how does this contribute to more efficient nutrient use? Reaching out to our customers and consumers and telling your good news story should now be part of every farm’s business plan. If you (and we) are not telling our great story, there are others who will speak for agriculture. And they may not like what you do. Some want to take away modern farming tools. By proudly standing up and speaking up we will not only preserve the gains of the past but help drive forward to a more sustainable and profitable future. Social media gives farmers an outlet to tell their story, an outlet that did not exist just a few years ago. This should become a tool as familiar on the farm as a tractor.