Pondering farming’s future, 6½ lbs. at a time

The New Year was hardly a day old when we welcomed grandson Andrew Daniel Huston into the family and into the world, at 6:25 p.m. on January 2.

He tipped the scales at a healthy 6 lbs., 8 oz., surprising his mother (my daughter) Alicia and his dad Mark with his speedy delivery.

Maybe he was in a hurry to farm.

Andrew joins his three-year-old brother Henry as the eighth generation of Hustons on the family farm, in Kent County, Ontario near Thamesville. The Hustons began farming there in 1830, even before Canada was a nation. And now, as we’re opening the books on our country’s 150th anniversary, the Huston farms provide a living for nearly a dozen family members, feeding their province, their country, and their world.

You never know if your kids are going to carry on the family business. But in Andrew and Henry’s case, it seems the odds of that happening are pretty good, if they so choose.

The Hustons are progressive, modern farmers. They care for their land, their crops and their livestock. They live where they work. They know what they’re doing. You don’t hold onto anything for seven generations if you don’t treat it with respect.

But ironically, it will likely be their ability to gain public trust, rather than their ability to farm, that colours what the future holds for Andrew, Henry and Canada’s 200,000 other farmers.

Here’s why. Research tells us consumers are suspicious of food and farming, thanks to successful anti-technology campaigns that fed on farmers’ traditionally quiet approach to going about their business.

Now, there’s more opportunity than ever to turn that around, to convince those with open minds that food production is overwhelmingly humane, above board and environmentally sound. Despite activists’ efforts, farmers themselves have more credibility than any others in the agri-food sector. They have a natural advantage to be exploited. Regular communications have a real place in farm management.

Not everyone can visit farms like the Hustons and see farming practices for themselves first-hand. But through social media and greater Internet access, farmers with a twitter account, a Facebook page and a blog can explain food production in words and photos of their own, and start a conversation.

It’s not a stretch. As we enter Canada’s 150th year, Canadian farmers are doing what we’ve always asked them to do: they’re providing safe, fresh, wholesome food as economically as possible. Since farming began, farmers have turned to research and technology from institutions like the University of Guelph for help feeding more people all the time. Modern food production has helped make us healthier and live longer.

So how about the next 150 years?

Well, the journey has already started, with the new feed-the-world imperative. Doing so effectively, efficiently and economically requires trust between farmers and consumers.

If the Henry and Andrew Hustons of the world are to carry on Canadian agriculture’s legacy, they need sustained support and guidance now, from voices of knowledge, strength and reason.

And chief among those voices are farmers.

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