There’s No Apology Necessary for Canada’s Vibrant Farm Economy

I suspect there will be a lot of angst over the new federal farm review and forecast – even though statistically, it’s a good news story.

The report, released last week, showed farmers produced 96.5 million tonnes of grain in 2013. That’s a major leap over the previous year’s relatively dismal 76.7-million tonne crop, which suffered from either too much rain or too little rain, depending on where you farmed.

Unfortunately, the grain transportation fiasco on the prairies has thrown a pall over this upbeat review, as well as on the prediction that Canadian farmers’ net income will remain at the historically high levels seen in recent years.

A vibrant farm economy is not bad news. I know, though, some farmers cringe when Ottawa proclaims near-record levels of anything. They’re embarrassed — almost apologetic — by the appearance of such prosperity, not only because they’re generally a humble lot, but because they fear a backlash from consumers who say food prices are too high.

Again, more on-farm anxiety is likely, even though a whack of houses in Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere also cost that much, and sure don’t provide the same kind of service to Canadians.

There’s more. Ottawa also noted in its review that for the first time, the average per-farm net worth of Canada’s 200,000-ish farms is forecast to reach $2 million.

Again, more on-farm anxiety is likely, even though a whack of houses in Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere also cost that much, and sure don’t provide the same kind of service to Canadians.

And finally, I wouldn’t doubt that farmers somehow get drawn into or blamed for what is destined to become the calorie-count controversy in Ontario.

Next week, the province is expected to announce large chain restaurants will need to state calorie counts on their menus and menu board. It’s the latest of many dire attempts being made everywhere from Abbotsford to Abu Dhabi to promote greater individual and corporate responsibility for better health, as our increasingly sedentary society slips deeper into a bonafide health crisis.

As fast-food corporations proclaim their innocence and the search for a scapegoat (and magic bullet) intensifies, I predict farmers will be accused of not doing enough to grow crops and raise livestock that actually make people healthy. Some activists will even point fingers at GMOs. We know that’s not the problem – we know that when it comes to food, it’s the volume consumed and the  addition of calories or certain preparation and processing techniques that sink the ship.

But not everyone knows that. Imagine yourself as a member of the public, trying to sort all this out. Naturally, you’re going to look to opinion leaders for advice.

There’s no apology necessary for Canada’s vibrant farm economy

And that’s where I believe farm leaders have an opportunity now to step up and set the record straight.

First, there’s no apology necessary for Canada’s vibrant farm economy. People can be made to understand why it’s OK for farmers to make money, if they can come to appreciate farmers are running a business, not pursuing a hobby. And all businesses, not just farms, must make money to survive.

Second, people can be made to understand not all processing is bad, and that certain preparation and processing techniques can actually make raw commodities produced by farmers better and more accessible.

But farmers can’t let themselves be hung out to dry when a processor adds gobs of sugar and oil — and a bit of bran — to flour, calls it a bran muffin, and then suggests it’s a healthy alternative. That’s where the province’s calorie counter comes in.

People are catching on, and farmers can help them. This weekend through to Monday, the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association holds its annual trade show at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto.

The Ontario pavilion, led by Ontariofresh.ca and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, is among the most popular draw there, thanks to the diversity of food produced and processed in this province.

Megan Hunter, communications and program manager for Ontariofresh.ca, says every year demand grows for local food and beverages from consumers and, in turn, chefs and restaurants.

Who grows local food? Local, Canadian farmers. They’re providing the essentials of life…and they have no reason to apologize for that role.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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