I’m not surprised that Alberta farmers railed against Bill 6. Usually, the status quo is easier to live with than change, particularly imposed change. And in the case of Bill 6, change would occur in everything from farm culture to the bottom line. It still might. But hopefully, not to the same extent.
In response to the outcry, the Alberta government did what few governments do these days — it actually altered its course of action based on pressure from farmers. Most times, farmers don’t make up a high enough percentage of the population to inspire a government take its foot off the gas on farm issues. This, despite agriculture’s significance to the economy, the love of local food, or whatever else might endear people to farmers.
I’m not endorsing the Alberta government’s initial action that turned farmers into protesters. By the government’s own admission, it was too hasty in the first place, trying to ram Bill 6 through without much of a courtship with those who would have a lasting relationship with it. While the province deserves some praise for responding to farmers, frankly, it’s feint praise, for doing the right thing after first doing the wrong thing.
But now that the brakes have been pumped comes the second part of the real work – that is, renewing agriculture’s social licence with the public by promoting a culture that lets farmers do what they need to do, while making the public feel good about it all.
I doubt that the public sees this issue clearly. Some farmers blew their tops in frustration over the original Bill 6, which didn’t help explain the issues. I saw quotes and placards that were understandably antagonistic, but one in particular that stood out to me in its simultaneous simplicity and ignorance: “Government, go away!”
I know some people want the government to go away. But it won’t. The government is a direct reflection of the public that elected it, and the public isn’t going away, either.
And really, who wants it to? With some work, the public can be your ally. The public needs to be onside, not just for farm safety, but for a host of other matters on which agriculture relies – like buying homegrown ingredients and commodities.
The news has carried stories about horrible farm tragedies and deaths. There’s no getting around the severity of the situation. Still, I can’t help thinking the public wants to believe farms are safe.
And overwhelmingly, farms are safe.
So, show people and tell people what you’re doing to make your farm safe.
Show them and tell them about farm safety, just like you do when you show them you don’t abuse animals or drench your crops with poison. When these issues arise, they want to know what’s going on behind the farm gate. Farmers open up.
It’s time to do it again with farm safety.
As Manitoba deputy agriculture minister Dori Gingera-Beauchemin said at a leadership conference we were both involved in for the Manitoba Canola Growers Association recently, you can’t expect people to just know what happens on a farm. They have busy lives with many distractions. It’s not their fault if they don’t know about agriculture; it’s yours, if you don’t tell them.
So use whatever measures you have available — social media (websites, blogs, twitter, facebook, etc.), conventional media (weekly and community newspapers), speaking engagements, among them — to tell them about measures you take to keep your farm safe.
In particular, tell them about your farm’s own safety plan.
Tell them about the farm safety education programs you’ve participated in to keep yourself, your kids and your workers safe.
They might be surprised that the province has farm safety education.
Then they might wonder why the province needs to legislate farm safety if it’s already educating farmers, and if they know that the vast majority of farm work, which can be dangerous, is actually conducted without incident.
Ultimately, the goal is to help people understand more about this vital aspect of farming, so they can make an educated assessment about how much the government needs to get involved.
But they won’t know, unless you tell them.