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Agriculture This Week - The issue of how farming is done

It is always interesting to read about the issues of agriculture beyond Canada’s border.

It is always interesting to read about the issues of agriculture beyond Canada’s border.

The influences on the sector in places such as Europe and California may seem a long way from a farm at Springside or Val Marie in Saskatchewan, but often trends started in such far away locales have a tendency to flow down to producers here in time.

Sadly, often the pressures put on farming in Europe, or California, are being imposed by consumer pressure. While producers should care about the concerns of consumers purchasing their products, there is also a growing reality those consumers are demanding changes which show they have limited understanding of how a modern farm operates.

The concerns range across all sectors of agriculture.

As an example, there are those who red flag every application of herbicide on grain farms. Yes there needs to be regulation, but the costs of product and application suggest farmers are not going to over apply. The emergence of precision application with GPS technology, reducing overlap application, and rates specific to infestation levels have helped in that regard as well.

The consumer impression of livestock production may be even bleaker.

Consumer sentiment about animals is generally not very positive. They hold issue with poor animal environments, wasted resources and pollution from manure and field input runoff.

Granted cage laying operations do not lend themselves to images of happy hens, but neither to tail pecking free range hens nibbling on weeds which lead to dark yellow yolks the mild constitution on many consumers would balk at.

The idea of wasted resources is less easily understood.

Water is one of those resources of course, but in terms of usage does the world need pristine green lawns and sparkling clean cars more than pork?

It is such issues and their impact which was at the heart of EuroTier in Hannover, Germany, recently. The largest event in the industry focused on addressing both the realities and the misperceptions.

The solutions are of course a matter of perspective.

Certainly farmers have moved toward better systems, precision field applications, just one example.

But will consumers ever be satisfied?

The answer is not likely.

In Saskatchewan one million hogs have been produced in a year on a few hundred small farms decades ago, and more recently on a handful of much larger scale production units. Dealing with the manure is certainly a bigger issue on the large scale units.

But the same issue faces Los Angeles and Berlin when it comes to dealing with the waste of big city populations. It is a reality of dense populations.

The best that can be hoped for is producers remaining diligent to best practices to limit the impact of farming on the environment, and the need for consumers to become more aware of just what is happening on the farm to produce their food.

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorktin This Week.