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Coming together in celebration of ag

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Second annual Canada’s Agriculture Day celebrates successes while encouraging collaboration across the industry

Regardless of what part of the country you live in, or what you do for a living, or what your heritage is, there is one thing that connects all of us. Food.

In Canada, we are fortunate to have access to an abundance of healthy and high-quality foods from a vibrant industry that proudly contributes more than $110 billion to the country’s economy. The list of industry achievements could go on and on, because there is a lot to be proud of when it comes to food and agriculture in Canada.

And what better way to highlight those achievements than with a national celebration?

February 13 marked the second annual Canada’s Agriculture Day, an opportunity for those in the agriculture industry to come together in celebration of Canadian food, while showcasing the industry’s many outstanding accomplishments and encouraging more conversations with consumers.

“(In agriculture) we tend to have our heads down and just focus on what we’re doing – growing and producing and processing amazing food that is safe and sustainable. This is a day to remind people to slow down and take a look around and really celebrate what we’re up to,” said Michael Hoffort, President and CEO of Farm Credit Canada, at the Canada’s Agriculture Day event in Ottawa. “It’s a great celebration and also a great opportunity to connect with Canadians from coast to coast.”

Michael Hoffort, President and CEO of Farm Credit Canada, said that for the second annual Canada’s Agriculture Day “People wanted to see this happen again, and even bigger and better.”

While there is no shortage of reasons to celebrate Canadian agriculture and food, the industry is not without its challenges. Considering that only about two per cent of the current Canadian population work on farms, among those challenges is creating a closer connection with consumers about where their food comes from and the people who produce it.

“Agri-food has a hyphen, but that hyphen can feel like a mountain. We have to make a connection between our industry and consumers,” explained Hoffort, later adding: “Everyone is looking for safe, affordable, good-tasting food and we have that here. There is no downside to connecting more accurately with our consumers. It is on all of us involved in the industry to take that first step, and welcome consumers to get to know us better and let them know that if they have questions about food, about processing, we will be happy to be transparent and talk about it.”

Without question, a major contributing factor to some of the confusion that consumers have about agriculture and food production is a result of the overabundance of misinformation and myths circulating about the industry.

But in the challenge of providing accurate information to consumers also lies opportunity.

“Consumers are frustrated. Their trust is low; they have been told a lot of things that didn’t happen. At the same time, they are more passionate than ever,” Jeff Simmons, President of Elanco Animal Health, said during his keynote address. “Consumer skepticism creates an opportunity to disrupt perceptions. This is the time of opportunity.”

Coming together

However, to capitalize on that opportunity requires collaboration. Addressing consumers’ concerns impacts everyone involved in the food production system, and many speakers at the Canada’s Agriculture Day event in Ottawa highlighted the need for the industry to, as Simmons said, “break down the silos.”

Jeff Simmons, President of Elanco Animal Health, told those at the Canada’s Agriculture Day event in Ottawa that “Connecting a message to the right person is our challenge in agriculture.”

“We have to do a better job telling our story to Canadians,” said Carla Ventin, Senior Vice-President of Government Affairs for Food and Consumer Products of Canada, while leading the event’s fireside chat. “We have to work together to communicate about the food we grow in a way that makes sense for Canadians.”

“I would encourage the entire system to get to know each other better. That includes, from the production side, us understanding the challenges that retailers face,” said Mary Robinson, a producer from Prince Edward Island, during a producer panel discussion. “Because we are all in this together. With any good team, there has to be communication.”

That team also includes the next generation of producers, processors, scientists, researchers, and others who will continue to build upon the industry’s successes and help feed a burgeoning global population. With more than 100 youths in attendance at the day-long event in Ottawa, as well as students from McGill University’s Macdonald Campus, several producers and industry representatives seized the chance to emphasize the numerous career opportunities throughout the industry.

“Farming is great business, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – ever,” stated Jill Azanza, a poultry producer from British Columbia, who also took part in the producer panel. “For the young people in the room, there are so many jobs coming up in agriculture in so many different ways.”

Cathy Lennon, General Manager of Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (far left), moderates a panel with producers Mary Robinson, Jill Azanza, and Jill Harvie.

Moving forward

Though Canada’s Agriculture Day has come and gone for another year that certainly doesn’t mean the conversations and celebrations should stop. Because there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to agriculture, much more than what can be expressed in just one day.

As Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, summed up during his address at the Ottawa event: “I never get tired of saying that the future of our industry has never been brighter. There is literally a world of opportunity out there for Canadian farmers and food processors.”

If you’re passionate about agriculture, add your voice to the food conversation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re speaking to 200 people or two; whether you’re interacting through social media or chatting with a fellow shopper in the cereal aisle at your grocery store. All that matters is to keep the honest and open conversations going all year long by sharing your experiences and encouraging consumers to ask questions. After all, no one is better equipped to speak about the food found on tables across the country than the people producing it.

So tell your story and tell it with pride.

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