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Agnerds unite!

By Tom Van Dusen - AgriNews Staff Writer

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  • With its "agvocates" and its "I (heart) Ag" stickers, its earnest pronouncements and its ultra-positive slogans, the Agriculture More Than Ever campaign appears at first to be a little hokey, maybe even agnerdy.

    An agvocate, by the way, is somebody who does something in setting the record straight about agriculture with passion and conviction.

    A "Kiss Me I'm a Farmer" shirt is even part of the arsenal aimed at putting a fresh new spin on the industry. I own one of the shirts but it has never had the desired effect; as soon as observers realize I'm a reporter masquerading as a farmer, I get a slap instead of a kiss.

    An offshoot of Farm Credit Canada, Ag More than Ever appeared on the Canadian farm scene three or four years ago when, for example, it reserved a spot at the Ottawa Valley Farm Show and began selling its $5 slogan shirts and other items including "Ag Proud" hoodies.

    As manager of the farm show, I wasn't sure what to make of the effort except that it was a cute attempt to instill some pride in the profession. I realized that farmers and other industry practitioners could wear all the upbeat clothing they wanted but there'd be little impact unless consumers picked up on the theme.

    Now, there seems to be a groundswell building behind the movement and a shift in the Ag More than Ever direction. The campaign won't have a booth at the 2017 farm show coming up at Ottawa's EY Centre March 14-15, although you can still buy the gear online.

    Instead, after several years spent forming partnerships including one with the Ottawa Valley Farm Show, the FCC in concert with the country's 150th birthday has bumped the campaign up to the next level. Six months in the making, that level was the first-ever "Canada's Agriculture Day" held in Ottawa Feb. 16.

    I've got to say I was impressed. Other commitments prevented me from attending the luncheon and reception components of the day-long event, but I did make it to part of "The Future of Agriculture is Bright" discussion on the importance of youth, technology and innovation.

    I thought I might discover 100 people in attendance; I was taken aback upon entering the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel to find it packed with several hundred industry representatives and a large youth contingent. Hokey in a way, yes, but it looks like the FCC has made giant strides in convincing other industry members to come together in celebrating the pluses of Canadian farming and food production.

    This kind of rah-rah approach has always been missing in Canadian agriculture. Farmers and their organizations have gone quietly and competently about their work, mostly oblivious to the fact you have to sell the sizzle as well as the steak.

    When broadsided by animal rights activists, they've been slow on the uptake, standing on the sidelines while the often flawed and ill-informed activist stand dominates the news. The positive points have rarely been trumpeted until now.

    The timing couldn't be better. Consumers have become intensely interested in the origin of their food, offering the industry an unprecedented promotional opportunity.

    Here's the overall thrust from the army of agvocates marching across the land on behalf of Ag More than Ever: The mandate is to improve perceptions, dispel myths and create positive dialogue about Canadian agriculture, all of which was obvious at the Ottawa conference. The purpose is to help the industry reach its full potential and attract the people, investment and consumer confidence needed for future success.

    Agvocates are stepping forward in all commodities, folks such as Ravi Bathe, a poultry and berry producer, who urges his fellow farmers to speak from the heart: "You live and love ag. Share that love with the world."

    Agvocate Natacha Lagarde, a maple syrup producer, states: "In order for consumers to support and understand us, they need to know us better. The best people to explain are the people who live agriculture."

    And agvocate Sam Bourgeois, an apple grower, calls for openness and honesty: "What do we have to hide? Nothing! I eat the food I produce. If we tell our story honestly, people will trust us."

    As FCC President and CEO Michael Hoffort puts it: "Our industry has an amazing story to share and, across the country, farmers agribusinesses, processors, manufacturers and so many others are celebrating that story. Truly, we're up to something special."

    It's enough to make an agvocate a little misty eyed!

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