NEW AGRICULTURE MINISTER APPOINTED
As Canada’s new Minister of Agriculture, will Marie-Claude Bibeau’s previous experience as Minister of International Development help her to quickly grasp the complex role that agriculture plays in any society?
Not only is food a fundamental need for any nation, but it is so fundamental that a secure food supply is also an aspect of national defence. On top of national needs, the needs of feeding the world while ensuring farmer’s are viable must also be constantly weighed against the unavoidable environmental price of feeding 7.5 billion human beings. It’s no easy task balancing often opposing needs, but early indications are Minister Bibeau is a good listener and a quick learner.
Bibeau will be commencing the Western leg of a Canadian agriculture tour beginning on March 11 in Vernon, British Columbia and ends on March 13 in Winnipeg, Manitoba with stops in Kelowna, B.C. and Calgary, Alberta. If you’re a farmer with worthwhile ideas and experiences to share, consider attending the tour.
FARMERS ARE ALL ON THE SIDE OF SUCCESS
The public often perceives there to be an enormous culture war going on in food and farming. While food marketers profit from the intentional sowing of that fear and division, for farmers and scientists alike, everyone knows the world’s agricultural systems all face the same challenges: productivity, quality, input and production costs, pest and disease control, damage and spoilage, weather resilience, and finally speculative pricing. Managing all of that is difficult enough.
Farmers have little interest in picking fights with neighbours facing the same challenges they are. The supposed divide really only exists between people disconnected from actual farming. As an example, Michelle Miller, also known as The Farm Babe, is a pro-genetic engineering farmer who recently attended an organic farming conference and wrote about how positive the experience was.
Far from a battle between nature lovers and soulless corporate factory farms, whether it is hydroponic, greenhouse, genetically engineered, regenerative/organic, or conventional, all types of farming enjoy various costs and various benefits associated with their approach. While the public may often believe there is a one-size fits-all answer, the consensus of experts overwhelmingly agrees that that is not the case.
What works in one place on one crop and one market may not be what works somewhere else with a different economy, infrastructure and tastes. Regardless of their differences, together the various systems of farming all work to supply different customers in the world’s extremely large and diverse 7.5 billion person marketplace. That simple fact is a daily accomplishment that receives far too little appreciation from a very hungry public.
A GOLD RUSH FOR GOLDEN RICE IN BANGLADESH
Dr. Steven Novella writes comprehensively about the long scientific and social struggle to bring life-saving Golden Rice to those in Bangladesh who need it most. According to the World Health Organization, “An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.”
In a clear demonstration of how the road to hell can be paved with good intentions, largely well-fed Western activists have exercised a perverse form of Imperialism by having their cultural politics lead them to actively generate delays in the release of Golden Rice. This was even done by organizations as prominent as Greenpeace, although their resistance has greatly reduced following a letter from over 100 Nobel Prize Laureates who wrote to request that the organization abandon its misplaced, scientifically invalid opposition to what will otherwise soon be a lifesaver to half a million blind and dying children.
CHEMOPHOBIA AND PESTICIDE MYTHOLOGIES
It is somewhat surprising that this article was published without an editor noting that it includes two glaringly false and illogical premises. It is not however surprising that it was originally written in French. Europe is now unable to feed itself as it slowly becomes an unsustainable museum of unproductive agriculture.
For reasons unknown, France leads the way in unrealistic and largely romantic notions about nature and farming, and France influences every other French population around the world. It’s a curious position for a nation that first launched its national Academy of Sciences in 1666, and one that has a long and venerable history of allowing evidence to lead the way.
The premise the authors present is: if farmers pursue smart sprayers that can more effectively target weeds, that benefit locks farmers into a future of buying herbicide. Far less herbicide than they require now, as opposed to… and here is the concern –the article notes the benefit of less herbicide use, but it fails to offer an alternative to pesticides in general, and it’s hard to imagine something more natural than highly targeted chemical defences that only impact the problem pests or weeds while leaving all others unharmed.
This is precisely what nature does when a plant or animal produces it’s own natural, chemical defences. Sometimes those defences can just be the bitter flavour in a food, and sometimes they can even be fatal to humans, as many have unfortunately discovered by eating the wrong seed or mushroom or fish etc..
The effects of chemicals differ from species to species, so ‘pesticide’ is a context-specific term. Many things that kill bugs or plants are not harmful to mammals. In fact, humans enjoy many pesticides. Chocolate is used against coyotes, and music festival attendees get high on the chemical created by Magic Mushrooms as an appetite-suppression defence against an insect. Humans consume about 1500mg per day of plant-produced pesticide, but only about .09mg of organic or synthetic commercial pesticide.
The point is, pesticides are not really a major problem because we not only use less of them now than at any time in modern history, but we have learned how to target them better by learning from nature, which uses them simply because they are necessary. Whether we like or not, we are in competition for food with bugs and other resource-consuming plants. Pretending otherwise is to stick our heads in the proverbial sand.
As for the machines locking in the chemical use –it’s not like a precision robotics company is interested in helping the chemical company survive– they’re a direct competitor that promises far less chemical needs will to be purchased, and that advantage is the only reason the farmer considers incurring the cost of the new machine. If the machines could wipe the chemicals out entirely with robots they will, because that’s how competitive markets work.
If chemicals survive it will be the same way they always have: by being smarter, safer, more successful and/or more productive. This article seems to assume everyone is held captive to pesticide producers when in reality they are key agricultural partners. As it is, each year what used to be chemistry morphs more and more into the new field of biologics, but we can guess that many people will also find ways to find that equally uncomfortable.
Robots or not, farmers want safer chemicals because their families have far more exposure to them. They want to spray less because it saves them time and money. And they want to spray less because the compaction process created by the spraying is not good for their soil, and that soil is essentially what is handed down for multiple generations. As chemical companies compete to provide their salespeople with marketable benefits that matter to a farmer, the ordinary market forces noted above mean that chemicals have become safer and less damaging to the environment than they have ever been.
This article makes some genuinely excellent points about the usefulness of big data, machine learning and robotic automation, but these worthwhile points should be separated from where the article completely collapses under the weight of the two author’s misconceptions about both nature and markets. There is no all-powerful corporate chemical bogeyman. The fact is, the pesticide industry helps feeds billions and kills almost no one who isn’t misusing it, (as happens with many other products including cars).
Just as in nature, there are companies that are competing for resources, and just as huge mammals can be taken down by a virus, tiny clever companies can easily steal investment dollars from huge chemical companies by simply producing a better product for the environment, for the farmer, and ultimately for society. It is in this way that things like university endowments and the pension funds that make up large parts of the stock market can help to foster genuine ecological and social innovations, be they biological, robotic or chemical.
Canadian Federation of Agriculture Awarded $560,000 for Single Portal Sustainability Sourcing
Canadian Federation of Agriculture Awarded $560,000 for Single Portal Sustainability Sourcing
Green certifications have become increasingly important in the food industry, as consumers look for confirmation that their food is being produced and processed in an environmentally friendly manner. In Canada, there has been a recent movement of concerned consumers looking for more transparency within the food industry. Organizations like Food Secure Canada advocate for a better food system that improves the connection between health, sustainability and agriculture.
In February 2020, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food stated that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture would invest in a new sustainability initiative. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is the largest farm organization in Canada, representing over 200,000 farms. The organization has played a critical role in advancing environmental sustainability practices within the food industry.
The Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative (CASI) will work with farmers, manufacturers, food processors and retailers to improve transparency in the Canadian food system. The initiative will promote sustainability through an integrated process that depends on data and collaboration to transform the food industry and improve relations with consumers.
The Canadian Food System
Canada is one of the top five exporters of food in the world. The Canadian agriculture and agri-food system generates over $100 billion in sales annually and employs over 2 million people. The agricultural food system is a significant player in Canada’s economic wealth and stability. However, like other large agricultural exporters — such as the United States — Canada has faced recent scrutiny over their production practices. Many large-scale and industrialized agriculture productions are harmful to the environment and detrimental to human health.
With such a large proportion of Canadian food exported, many domestic consumers distrust the public policies that lack transparency over the industry’s environmental impact and unsafe production practices. With the creation of the Candian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative, the federal government hopes to facilitate improved sustainability throughout the food industry.
The Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative
The Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative includes a federal investment of $560,000. These funds will go toward the creation of an online forum that advances the analytic capabilities of producers and farmers. By creating a new network around sustainability, the project hopes to track the progress of sustainable practices in the Canadian food industry.
The initiative will also help producers and processors work together to certify products with sustainability labels that consumers are looking for. The Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative will rely on data analytics and real-time analysis of food production and processing to find solutions to unsustainable issues. From a consumer standpoint, it will increase trust in the use of food labels and regulate claims regarding the quality of various products.
Sustainability in the Agri-Food Industry
Canada’s agricultural system relies on the production of corn, potatoes, soybeans and commodity grains like wheat. Western parts of Canada have a higher production of beef, while the Eastern side focuses more on poultry. Unlike other top food exporters, Canada has been steadily growing the organic aspect of their production processes at a rate of 20% per year.
However, the percentage of land utilized for organic farming is meager — around 1.8 percent in 2017. Despite this, organic products still valued around $5.4 billion in both domestic and exported goods.
With such an economic reliance on the agricultural industry, the farm community, consumers and other concerned citizens are working together to ensure they manage Canadian soil more responsibly. According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, solutions like climate change research, bioeconomic strategy and the continuation of research and innovation within the industry will be key to future success.
Improving the Future of Canadian Agriculture
With this new initiative in place, agriculturists can have more confidence in growing organic products. Consumers, too, will be able to put their trust in the food industry, knowing the food they’re purchasing was grown sustainably.
Watch: Edible Cotton and GMO Science Improve Agricultural Sustainability
Too many people see GMOs as anti-environment when they were produced to do the exact opposite. By doing things like reducing spraying or crop losses due to pests or weather, GMO cotton offers significant advantages over Non-GMO forms. Now that scientists have found ways to make the seeds edible by silencing cotton’s natural pesticide production in the seeds only, and now that this technology has been approved by the FDA, the sustainability advantage of GMO cotton will be improved even further.