OTTAWA -- Farm Credit Canada (FCC) was host to the first celebration of Agriculture Day in Canada on Feb. 16 with a luncheon, afternoon forum of youth and industry speakers and a reception in downtown Ottawa.
From corporate magnates to weathered farmers to ambitious and inspired youth - the message was the same; Canadian agriculture needs to do a better job telling the Canadian food story.
Did you know that:
Cargill has grown 600 per cent in the last 15 years;
Only 1 in 50 Canadian understands where their foods come from;
The value of Canada's agricultural sector has grown from $40-billion in 2007 to over $60-billion in 2017;
Corn yields have increased 44 per cent in the last 20 years;
Ontario alone has had more than $20-million invested by farmers in Environmental Farm Plans.
These were just a few of the tidbits shared by speakers Jim Smolik of Cargill, Michael Hoffort of FCC and Crystal Mackay of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity.
Considered an employment powerhouse in the Canadian economy, the agriculture and agri-food sector currently employs 2.1-million people -- that's one in eight jobs -- and there are more than 12,000 students enrolled in agricultural studies. Even so, research by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) indicates there will be a shortage of more than 114,000 workers in the agricultural sector by 2025.
"In the next 40 years, humans will need to produce more food than in the previous 10,000 years put together," summarized Hoffort. "Globally, there is a new middle class of people emerging and the first thing they want to do is eat better. Canada needs to look forward and be a superpower in food production."
Hoffort further challenged the audience to Dream, Dare and Do! Dream of new ways to increase production and processing - and think centuries ahead, not just years or decades. Dare to change paradigms, find different solutions, and speak as one voice - one industry. Do continue to move forward; we don't have to have it all figured out today.
A youth panel heard from Andrea Soesbergen, Tanvi Pandya and Fatouma Mohamed, moderated by Cameron Choquette. Within the audience there was a strong contingent of over 100 youth aged 14 - 17 from local high schools. At issue was the global challenge of feeding a growing population in a sustainable manner and how youth, agriculture and innovation will come together. The stark fact is that the world population will exceed nine billion by 2050. Within that population there will be 2.4-billion new middle class globally in the next 15 years and they all want to eat like we do.
The panel suggested that solutions will call for innovation, technological advances and greater communication with consumers. However, another important message immerged as well -- Canada's future farmers don't want to farm the way previous generations have.
"Today's young farmers want a work-life balance. They see farming as a job and career, but not something that dominates their every decision -- not the all-inclusive way of life' that it used to be for previous generations," explains Debra Hauer, Labour Market Intelligence Project Manager at CAHRC. "This is something that the out-going generation of farmers will need to recognize and adapt to in their succession transitions. After all, feeding nine billion people by 2050 will be the challenge of today's youth, so they deserve to have their input."
The second panel heard from John Betts, CEO of McDonald's Canada, Denis Desjardins, a New Brunswick potato producer, and Lane Stockbrugger, a Saskatchewan canola producer, moderated by Rosie Templeton. The key messages for this panel were the need for sustainability in agriculture and the importance of listening and responding to your customers.
McDonald's is very attuned to their customers and believes that people want to know about the food they eat, where and how it is grown, and who the farmers are. In 2014, the global burger giant saw this as an opportunity to develop Sustainability Standards in Canada and these are now McDonald's standards globally. McDonald's also initiated their Our Food - Your Questions' program inviting the public to ask questions, then have McDonald's producers answer them.
"Agricultural sustainability is changing, Farmers used to think, If we grow it, they will come'. Whereas now, we producers serve the needs of buyers like McDonald's and they serve what the consumers want," explained Stockbrugger. "Likewise with the land. We used to farm by the acre and now with GPS we farm by the square metre. We're getting more efficient."