There’s no question that there’s a lot of pride among those who contribute to Canada’s dynamic agriculture industry.
And with good reason.
Not only does the industry employ 2.3 million Canadians, with one in eight jobs being in agriculture and agri-food, but it also contributes more than $110 billion annually to Canada’s economy by producing an abundance of high-quality foods that are among the safest in the world.
It’s safe to say the future of agriculture is bright.
But while those of us in the industry know that to be true, can the same be said of most consumers?
That’s why it’s up to all of us in agriculture to help consumers draw a closer connection to where their food comes from and the people who produce it.
And there’s no better way to inspire that than a national celebration of food.
February 12 marked the third annual Canada’s Agriculture Day, an opportunity for everyone in agriculture to come together to celebrate Canadian food, while showcasing the extraordinary happenings taking place across the industry and encouraging more people to add their voice to the food conversation.
“We all benefit from sharing this great industry we love with others – whether they are from the farm, the city, or another country,” said Sophie Perreault, Farm Credit Canada’s Chief Operating Officer, at the event in Ottawa for Canada’s Agriculture Day.
While there is tremendous opportunity ahead for the future of Canadian agriculture, to capitalize on the full potential there needs to be further change and innovation throughout the industry. After all, if we want to be able to feed the burgeoning global population, maintaining the status quo isn’t going to be enough.
“We need to change, adapt, and rethink our approach as we move forward so we can face the challenges ahead. Without seizing opportunities and taking a certain level of risk, there is no reward,” explained Perreault.
“New technologies are emerging almost every day. And with that comes countless opportunities to mobilize, connect, and innovate as we bring the urban and the rural worlds together to redefine our industry. All of these changes and advancements can’t happen without us looking for those opportunities.”
Growing the industry
Given that today’s youth will be tomorrow’s producers and industry leaders, it was fitting that more than 100 young people from across Canada, as well as students from McGill University, attended the day-long event in Ottawa.
Particularly since in order to grow the industry we need to encourage more people to pursue careers in agriculture. And the sooner, the better. According to the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, Canada’s agri-workforce could be short of workers for 114,000 jobs by 2025.
“We have to work hard to get young people onto the farm. We have to change our ways of looking for employees and working with employees,” stated Christian Kaiser, a dairy producer from Quebec who participated in the producer panel discussion.
So how can the industry go about attracting more people to fill all those future jobs? One way is by speaking up and telling the amazing story of Canadian agriculture so that more people want to be a part of this vibrant industry.
As many speakers at the Ottawa event noted, improving communication, both with consumers and among those in agriculture, is crucial for growing and advancing the industry.
“It’s about repositioning the dialogue. And I think that is one of the things we have to do a better job of. We are in the headlines now; however, we are in the headlights as well,” noted Ron Bonnett, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. “Taking a day like today to celebrate some of our successes is incredibly important. [But] this isn’t a story we need to share among ourselves, this is a story we need to share among everybody.”
The good news is more and more people do want to learn about where their food comes from. In his keynote address, David Coletto from Abacus Data highlighted a recent survey that found food and drink is the number one category millennials want to receive information on.
“Millennials need transparency, they need to feel like they are in control, they need to know where their food comes from – that is increasingly important to a larger segment of this population, who are the influencers,” Coletto explained. “Millennial consumers already have an emotional connection to food, so agriculture needs to figure out a way to build on that.”
Continuing the momentum
Just because Canada’s Agriculture Day has wrapped up for another year doesn’t mean the conversations about food and agriculture should as well. Instead, the excitement that surrounded the day needs to carry on throughout the year.
As Perrault noted: “The agriculture industry has never looked brighter, and therefore we all have a responsibility to do more.”
Remember that no one can tell the story behind the food that Canadians across the country eat every day better than the people who produce it. So don’t be afraid to start a conversation, whether you’re in a taxi on the way to the airport, hanging out at your kid’s hockey game, or posting a picture on social media while working in the fields or barn. You never know the difference that a simple conversation could make.
After all, if we don’t tell the story of Canadian agriculture, who will?