The very word “sustainability” can be a bit of a lightning rod within agriculture. What is it? What does it really mean? What value does it have?
Carlo Dade, with the Canada West Foundation, says that there is real value in the term and the practices to achieve sustainable production, but that Canadian agriculture is not capitalizing on the opportunity, especially in export markets.
In its latest policy brief, What Now? Sustainable Canadian Agriculture: Canada’s solution for a global problem, the Canada West Foundation looks at prosperity and economic growth for Western Canada and its comparative advantage on a global scale.
“Sustainability comes up time and time again with buyers and foreign markets, media, and farmers, and it left us scratching our heads,” Dade says. “We have a strong comparative advantage in talking about sustainability, in talking about care for the environment, and the time and effort we put in to leaving the soil and the environment better than we found it,” he adds, referring to how farmers, processors, and equipment manufacturers run their businesses.
While Canada’s record on zero-till practices, biotech, crop science, and more should be an advantage, but we’re not driving the conversation on it and pressing this advantage when selling our products around the world.
But why not, and what would it take to change that?
Dade says it comes down to coordinated, consistent, persistent messaging. As it stands, no one really takes ownership of that messaging for Canada. Who does this well? The dairy industry! They continually drive home their messaging of healthy, caring farmers, and are everywhere with it, he says.
“If you let someone else take over the narrative, they control that messaging,” says Dade.
Whenever Canadian companies or producer groups head out, the comparative sustainability advantage of Canadian producers needs to be front and centre with all customers and the public, Dade says.