Divide and conquer. It’s one of the oldest, most prolific, and most well understood adages in history. Unfortunately, agriculture is a heavily segmented industry — tribal, in a sense — making it particularly vulnerable to this tactic.
Attacks against certain aspects of farming and food — whether focused on animal welfare, environmental practices, or what have you – are well known to us all. Yet, for some reason, we often spend as much time reinforcing the palisades around each other as we do the thoroughfares in between. How we speak and what we say to each other exposes gaps in the line, and our external enemies — who are numerous and diverse — are ever quicker at exploiting them.
Perhaps a new mentality is required. Perhaps on a basic, cognitive level, we all need a more developed mental check for the greater good.
For our own part, Canadian agriculture is divided on a grand scale into commodities, management styles, marketing boards or lack thereof, associations for every conceivable group in every conceivable area, not to mention the various political factions derived from geographically unique challenges. It’s an industry so fractured that one wonders how it functions cohesively at all, though it’s a testament to the resolve of Canada’s farmers that we do, in fact, have much to be proud of.
To give credit where it’s due, agricultural stakeholders across Canada have in many respects become quite good at partnering with one another. Commodity organizations from across the country do an excellent job communicating through their respective campaigns, as well as partnering with each other to amplify their impact. Farm & Food Care, too, exists because people see the value of unified communication efforts. Even individual farmers have started speaking-out in impressive numbers — a fantastic and much needed thing to be sure.
But we still bicker, and that prompts a tough question: How can we expect Canadians to like us if we don’t like each other?
Think about yourself and your camp. What do you do when Mercy for Animals or some dubious environmental group attacks a practice not associated with your sector? Do you rally to the colours of Canadian agriculture or sound the pipes of your own clan? How do you talk about issues near and dear to you when they also impact another, less familiar neighbour?
In reality, what hurts one hurts all. Organic farmers experience struggles not dissimilar to conventional farmers. Supply management folks face many of the same challenges as growers operating in the open market. One producer organization struggles with behind-closed-door policy decisions just like the rest. And the demon of them all, of course, is the fact that every stakeholder faces an ever more interested and less knowledgeable Canadian public.
In the face of innumerable special interest groups questioning almost every aspect of modern agriculture, there is little room for petty squabbling. All agricultural stakeholders need to adopt a team-effort mentality, need to consistently analyze things from both in and outside their sphere, before giving their two-cents.
In reality, what hurts one hurts all.
The key to survival is unity, and right now the industry is a classic example of tribalism – an apparent hangover from the not-so-distant past where humans looked little beyond their own kin and clan. It genuinely feels right, after all, to look for immediate value for oneself and the groups you represent. As we continue to stumble into the modern era, though, the need to suppress that tribalism becomes ever more imperative.
It’s part critical thinking, and part empathy. Not talking down to one another, not tossing our teammates under the bus, means we will all be better off – even if we don’t always get along.
In the opinion of one hopeful cynic, at least, that seems like a pretty attainable goal.
Editor’s note: Matt farms near Wheatley, Ontario and is the communications coordinator for Farm and Food Care.