We’re Gaining Ground; Now’s the Time to Tell Your Story

In the ongoing battle to make consumers more open to Canadian farmers’ use of technology, agriculture may finally be gaining some ground.

That may be hard to believe, given the same old hackneyed arguments about GMOs and the like that keep surfacing.

But CropLife President Ted Menzies told about 80 participants in a Farm Management Canada seminar Thursday new statistics gathered by his organization shows movement. Fewer people are against farmers using pesticides and biotechnology, prompting Menzies to observe that the opposition to modern agriculture is “not quite as serious as we thought.”

Even the media has softened, he noted, with a 23 per cent drop in negative articles and a 12 per cent increase in neutral coverage.

But he quickly added that none of the approval ratings for pesticides and biotechnology are over 40 per cent. Agriculture is far from out of the woods.

The same message was uttered recently by “SciBabe” Yvette d’Entremont, who said it’s going to be “really powerful…and transformative when people hear from farmers.”

That’s future tense, not present.

But Menzies, SciBabe and others say with this new interest and apparent shift in public opinion, now’s the time for farmers to step on the gas and take a position in the public eye.

“We have a good story to tell,” says Menzies, “we just need to tell it,” he says.

It was encouraging to read and hear that perspective reinforced last week by young Alberta canola growers.

After the Alberta Canola Producers’ Commission’s first leadership workshop for young producers, participant Cale Staden of Vermilion insisted in a blog post that farmers be active telling their story.

“Whether it’s getting our message out there, or sometimes having to defend/explain the ag industry and our farm practices, we as producers have a job to do in informing the general public about our way of life,” he wrote. “Our way of life is challenged everyday from those who do not understand what it means to farm, and it is up to each and every one of us to inform and educate the public on this lifestyle and business we have all chosen.”

So what is your story? Well, says Menzies, it’s the truth. It’s what you on the farm, it’s the answer to the question “You do what?”

Part of what you do is keep the prairies from turning into a Dust Bowl through better conservation tillage, keep Ontario’s continually growing population fed by getting more production of a shrinking number of acres, and keep the economy growing by contributing to the bottom line like no other sector with so few members.

One way or another, these are all benefits to consumers.

But no one knows that unless you tell them, in an unapologetic kind of way.

Menzies urges producers to tell people you use science and believe in it. That doesn’t mean it has to be the first thing out of your mouth, and that “science says it’s okay” is going to placate those who resist it, even coming from a farmer.

But science needs to enter the conversation, because it’s a huge part of farming. Listen to people’s concerns about it, says Menzies, then explain why you use it, and how it helps you be sustainable and productive.

“Be proud of what you do,” he says. “Stand up for what you believe in…and tell your story.”

 

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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