How perceptions of agriculture can impact Canada's 2019 election

What do Canadians think of our agriculture and agri-food industry as the calendar closes in on a federal election later this year?

A new poll published this week by Grassroots Public Affairs offers insight into Canadian public opinion on a range of agricultural issues and policies. Overall, Grassroots principal and senior consultant Peter Seemann says the poll, which surveyed 1,002 people online between April 29 and May 2, shows Canadians hold largely positive views about the current and future state of agriculture and agri-food in Canada. There are areas for improvement, however, and the industry also needs to do a better job of telling its story to consumers.

On the positive side, almost nine in 10 (89 per cent) of Canadians are either very or somewhat confident in the safety of food grown or produced in Canada. The industry also gets high marks on its environmental impact when compared to other industries. About six in 10 Canadians (61 per cent) believe agriculture and agri-food has a positive impact on the Canadian environment, compared with construction and infrastructure (42 per cent) and mining and natural resources (24 per cent).

“These findings confirm that policy makers and industry leaders can build on the agriculture sector’s positive reputation as clean, green and on the cutting edge of technology and innovation,” says Seemann.

The poll also reveals many Canadians (44 per cent) believe that the country’s agriculture and agri-food sector has the potential to grow over time. In this interview, Seemann and RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin discuss the impact trade agreements, and disagreements, could have on the sector’s ability to realize that potential. They also discuss the likelihood that Canada’s current trade relationships with countries like China and India and the pending conclusion of the USMCA could become significant election issues later this year. (story continues below player)

Despite the generally positive findings, the poll results also highlight several areas where the sector needs to enhance public awareness and understanding. For example, only 32 per cent of Canadians are likely to recommend a career in agriculture and agri-food. Very few Canadians are aware of the tremendous career opportunities agriculture presents, says Seemann, noting how the University of Guelph reports that students from its Ontario Agricultural College each have two to three job opportunities upon graduation.

Canadians also hold conflicting views on agriculture’s environmental history. Grassroots reports that 36 per cent of those polled say agricultural practices and methods have become less harmful to the environment over time, while 34 per cent believe practices have become more harmful.

“As Canada’s population has become more urbanized, the percentage of Canadians and the politicians that represent them, who have direct experience and understanding in agriculture has decreased,” added Seemann. “The industry needs to do a better job collaborating and communicating the massive benefits it offers the country as a whole.”

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