If you look back 35 years, there have been plenty of changes in Canadian agriculture and the environment in which farmers and agribusinesses operate. There are fewer farms now than in 1980, and they make up a smaller portion of eligible voters. While the societal contributions of farmers are no less important, governments tend to offer less support than they used to. At the same time, scrutiny of farming practices has increased.
What if we look ahead 35 years? What will Canadian ag policy — the interaction between farmers, the ag sector and government — look like in 2050?
Chances are a food crisis or two will change how governments around the world view food and food security, suggests Richard Phillips, the former executive director for Grain Growers of Canada who now serves as a federal lobbyist for ag and food interests in Ottawa.
“I think governments will be far more amenable to understanding what has to happen to increase food production and the tools farmers need,” he says. “I don’t think they’ll be as concerned with trying to block it or listening to activist groups.”
Within the ag community, the trend toward fewer and bigger farms will force farm and commodity organizations to evolve, and likely consolidate.
“People are going to look at the size of their check-off bills, which are all refundable, and they’re going to ask why they’re paying all these check-offs to all these organizations,” says Phillips.
Government ag departments will also shrink, and possibly be absorbed into broader ministries, he says. There will likely be a shift away from extension services to more of a role in fact-checking and independent evaluation, notes Phillips, while suggesting there will still be value in public ag research.
“The actual extension piece will probably fade away to a large extent, but the piece that could grow…is there a role for the public sector or ag department to do work like Tom Wolf, for example, checking spray nozzles? That’s the sort of information that’s absolutely invaluable to farmers,” he says. “They do want that neutral opinion.”
It’s impossible to predict, and 2050 might sound like it’s a long time away, but chances are some of today’s young farmers will still be involved in food production, maybe having farmed through these changes in ag policy.
Richard Phillips discussed what Canadian ag policy might look like in 2050 at the Ag Excellence Conference in Regina last month: