WESTERN PRODUCER — The gaps between agriculture and the wider world are getting bigger.
The first data from the nation’s census of agriculture was released last week. It comes out every five years, and every five years we see one constant trend: fewer farmers. While the nation’s population rises, the rural and agricultural population falls and the cultural gap grows.
Now, less than two percent of the population is involved in farming. In the past five years the number of farmers in Canada fell by nearly 10,000, or about 3.5 percent. No wonder it is hard for the other 98 percent of Canadians to identify with what farmers do and why they do it.
Not long ago, many Canadians could point to a grandparent, aunt, cousin or other relative on a farm, but that hasn’t been the case for decades. It limits most people’s ability to check their facts about farming.
That has allowed anti-animal and anti-modern agriculture groups, with their “red barn” notions, to drive a further wedge into the information gap that prevents greater understanding of the agricultural field.
Two weeks ago, Animal Justice, a Toronto-based animal rights organization that works to undermine Canadian livestock production in the name of animals’ legal rights, criticized Manitoba producers for their cattle losses in recent spring storms.
“Manitoba farmers leave 2,000 calves to die in inclement weather,” read a statement by the organization. This gross exaggeration of circumstances caused by poor weather conditions, combined with a lack of understanding about prairie weather and livestock production, slanders Canadian farmers.
To this ignorance, the group added this: “Mother cows develop extremely strong bonds with their babies, just like humans do. Yet these mother cows were artificially inseminated on the farmer’s timeline to ensure maximum profitability and forced to give birth in barren fields during poor weather—only to watch their babies freeze to death or drown in mud. The heartbreak they must have felt while watching their babies perish before their eyes is absolutely gut-wrenching. Our legal team believes it may also be against the law to inflict this severe emotional trauma onto the mother cows.”
The group has asked Manitoba’s chief veterinary officer to investigate farmers in this instance for their “rampant cruelty.”
Canadian agriculture is under pressure from other anti-science organizations that are opposed to modern genetic tools in crop production and make claims — without scientific proof — that regulated pesticides are threats to humans and the environment.
At first blush, it might not appear these groups damage farming and farmers to any great extent, given the ridiculous notions they voice. Their public relations efforts are focused on fundraising and are very effective in urban settings.
But they also influence educators and politicians, creating ever larger information gaps for producer organizations to fill.
These groups target everything from greenhouse gas emissions and livestock water use to the dangers of glyphosate in crop production.
Recent federal government plans to expand agricultural exports, including red meat, run the risk of being stifled by false, damaging claims from these groups unless Canadian agriculture continues, and likely increases, its investment in education outreach and public communications about the realities of the industry.
Politicians, like other Canadians, no longer have natural ties to a farmer in their worlds. It’s up to farmers to make those connections and ensure they remain stable.
Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.