Can Agriculture Speak With One Voice?

How many of you have been at an agricultural meeting and heard the phrase, “the industry needs to speak with one voice.” At first glance this would seem like a very plausible and likely strategy but lets really think about this and analyze it.

Do you really think that the cattle lobby will ever really see eye to eye with the grain farmer. What about the lack of common interests between grape growers and lentil growers? This is a huge industry that has a ton in common but the reality is that within the industry we have many differences that are not possible to ignore.

For example, corn growers want the highest price for their grain that they can get while feedyards are looking to pay as little for the corn as they can.  It is easy to pass this off as a small issue but the reality is that this simple kind or division of interest becomes very difficult to set aside.

This whole thought process became very apparent to me when I heard an industry outsider talk about it.  I was listening to Jeffery Simpson, a columnist with the Globe and Mail discuss his views on the economy and politics.  During the question period a person in the audience asked how agriculture could be better at “speaking with one voice.”  Mr. Simpson snapped back very quickly with,”Its impossible.  Having agriculture speak with one voice is like trying to get the media to speak with one voice.  Its just never going to happen”

I thought that this was very interesting and had some really foundations in truth.  Can you really see TMZ or RadarOnline.com collaborating and lobbying with the Wall Street Journal.  If you really think about it, agriculture is no different.  The ag industry has a hard times getting cow-calf producers, feed yards and packers to agree on the day of the week, never mind the context of a fair and equitable value chain.

I think that we should focus more on a collaborative voice instead of just one voice.  A collaborative voice does not necessarily agree on everything but it is still heard by people external of the industry, like government.  For example, feeders and ranchers can speak collaboratively to the government about the concern of packer consolidation.  Speaking with one voice could be difficult because there are different interests in the argument once you drop below 30,000 feet.

There are examples of agriculture speaking with one voice but that is usually within the context of common interest.  For example, the Grain Farmers of Ontario is a merger of the corn, wheat and soybean growers of Ontario.  The objective is that they will speak with one voice as grain farmers.  The situation works because corn, wheat and soybean growers are not in conflictive business settings with one another.  One side is not trying to buy something from the other.

I really believe that too many times we pretend to have this common interest on internal ag-issues that is not necessary possible and it slows down our ability to get things done.  I agree with Mr. Simpson that speaking with one voice is impossible but I do believe that certain situations do provide the environment to speak collaboratively.

What do you think?

(please vote in the poll at the top of the story)

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun grew up on a family seed farm in Southern Alberta. Haney Farms produces, conditions and retails wheat, barley, canola and corn seed. Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. @shaunhaney

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12 Comments

Philip Shaw

I don’t think it is possible for agriculture to speak with one voice, especially in Canada. Here we have three agricultural “countries” with three different viewpoints of what agriculture should be. We’ve got “the west”, then we have Ontario and then there is Quebec. Everybody had distinct differences which are often against each other. Also too, in Quebec there is a cultural aspect as well. Check this out…http://www.farmersforum.com/JULY%202009/p6.htm

Ditto for Canada

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Peter Gredig

One voice is impossible, especially if you consider the disparate interests of supply managed vs free enterprise sectors.
We can work together on macro issues: tax policy, free trade, stimulating b’ness environment, and less red tape.

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Barbara Grimmer

I think we have four agricultural “countries” in Canada- Quebec, Ontario, The West and BC. BC has the least support from provincial govt, a variety of items grown or raised, small and large scale etc. No, I like the article and the collaborative concept.

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janice

I think the one voice ag can get behind is we are here. All too often people don’t think about where their food comes from whether that’s a steak in the supermarket or a pizza delivered to the house. All of us have a role in producing those things and need to be heard. We also need to figure out how to get along – the in fighting doesn’t help anyone.

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Chris Paterson

Farmers are some of the most independant thinkers out there, one voice has never been possible, who would want a dictatorship?

However there are specific issues common to most all farmers that they should collaborate on, and collectively form a very strong voice. Agriculture is extremely misunderstood by the urbanites, and all the voting power is from the urbanites. As a result, some very misinformed yet passionate and well meaning people end up deciding the laws and programs that the agriculture industry must adhere to.

The voice of the agriculture industry is one of the most powerful and influential ones that drive decision making in some countries, but not in Canada.

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Harry Siemens

As we can see in the CWB debate involving marketing control, they speak from different positions and often from opposites sides and that will never change until the CWB becomes irrelevant.
However, where we can and where we need to speak with one common voice once we understand the issue is the fight against those who are determined to undermine, and even destroy production agriculture. Whether it is the environmentalists, animal activists, or those who want to turn the prairies back to grass and quarter section farms. I exaggerate a little maybe, but not by much, though, and those people are gaining momentum because most producers feel it is not their responsibility to stand up for their livelihood. Listen up! We need to stand up and fight for what is rightfully ours or we will find ourselves on the outside looking in watching food come from other countries and then watch the unsafe food screams lighten up. This is where we can and should speak with a common voice, yes even collaborative….

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Patty Townsend

Organizations right through the agriculture and agri-products value chain can and do speak with one voice, but only when the objective is clear and common. A good example is the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA) http://www.cafta.org, which was formed around the single, common objective of open international trade for agriculture and agri-products. For years, this organization has been steadfast and united around that objective. However, when there are attempts to expand the mandate, the unity is at risk.

I agree with Chris and others, that another objective on which the industry could speak together is to correct misconceptions, and to build excitement about the industry, as the provider of safe, healthy food and of solutions for health, fuel, fibre and for the environment. Every sector has a positive story to tell. I’m confident that for this purpose, if the mandate it is clearly defined, and the process is guided by a firm hand, we can leave the politics behind and join together around one cause and speak with one voice.

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Bill Norman

Agriculture must have a single voice with gov’t and lobby efforts, Farmers can have different issues and needs and still speak out side with one voice. Quebec farmers have demonstrated that one voice gets there needs better heard and acted upon.

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Gordon Butcher

Shawn, I commend you for bringing forward this thought provoking question. My first response and my experience has been that we need to speak as one voice but it is a major challenge. On the major issues of the safety of our food, GMO crops, freer trade and attracting young people into the industry we need one voice to educate and inform the general public.

The challenge for the industry and associations has been enough resourees and the allocation of those limited resources. In begining, almost all resources went to internal communications back to farmers and industry partner – more recently resources have been directed more and more to influence government policy makers and too a lesser degree politicans. In the future, the industry will need to funnel more resources to education of the general public – who influence the politicans and policy makers. Possibly resources can come from government if industry groups collabrate?

Possibly one voice is not as important as many voices coming from many sectors supporting one cause that as Patty says is important to all concerned?
I am impressed with the number of responses – this is engagement.

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Brian Klassen

It would be unreasonable to expect such a diverse group of people to be in agreement on all things as others have pointed out. The issue is that the agricultural industry (like many others) allows those points of disagreement (which are understandable) to colour those issues that should be agreeable.

If we hope to continue to make a good living in this wonderful industry, we need to stop giving control of our brand (who we are) to those who don’t even know us.The first step in this process is finding common ground, coming out of our shells and communicating it to the nation at all levels – ourselves.

Normally, a group this large and diverse needs to experience tremendous tragedy before common ground is truly sought. Hopefully, we will see the light and support those in agriculture who are trying to accomplish the strong voice that is needed to change perceptions.

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Todd Ormann

Shawn, as many have already said, great topic!

I do not think one voice is possible , or should it be unless we were want a planned agriculture economy, of which most have not been very successful. Industries are healthy when entrepreneurialism is encouraged and structures are in place that allows individuals to adapt to changing market dynamics. At a macro level it would make sense that agricultural policy develops a direction or goals for what will make Canadian Agriculture successful, i.e. safe food policy, globally competitive industries, etc., but not a single voice. Efforts to create a single voice to me appear futile, perhaps what is called for is Agricultural leadership to help set a direction and build a healthy regulatory environment for industry to thrive. It will then be competing “voices” and approaches that will bring success to the industry.

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