Agriculture’s best days are ahead

Cam Dahl

Some people look with nostalgia at the “good ol’ days” thinking that the world would be a better place if we could just go back in time, give up on technology and return food and farming to the way it used to be.

To these people I say, “poppycock!”

These garbled views of the past are not only wrong-headed they are dangerous.

The days before science delivered modern agricultural practices, such as advanced plant breeding and effective crop inputs, saw the rural Canadian landscape filled with poverty, hardship and reduced life expectancy. This is not that long ago – a generation or two at best. No one who lived through these times would want to go back. And people who live in these conditions today, in developing parts of the world, deserve the chance to get out.

Agriculture’s best days are not in the past, they are ahead and science and research is the path that will take us there. Science and research have already delivered. Never in the history of human development has food been as cheap and abundant as it is today in the developed world.

Never in the history of human development has food been as safe to eat as it is today in the developed world. And I would argue that never in the history of human development has agriculture been as environmentally sustainable as it is today.

Modern agricultural practices like zero and conservation tillage mean that Saskatchewan does not blow into Ontario anymore like it did when my dad was growing up.

Precision agriculture and modern crop inputs minimize greenhouse gas emissions and maximize the efficiency of crop nutrients.

New varieties developed through modern plant breeding are delivering more and more food without having to cut down more trees.

Safe food abundantly produced in a sustainable manner.

Brought to you by science, research and modern agriculture. And the forecast for the future is more of the same, only faster.

You might not see this message on the internet much because agriculture has been particularly bad at communicating the benefits we deliver to society.

Too often we just assumed everyone knew and went about our business producing more food.

But in an increasingly urban country with generations of separation between the city and the farm (if there ever was a connection) this assumption is dangerously wrong.

It is dangerous to assume that consumers are aware of the benefits of modern farming because the vacuum created by the lack of communication from agriculture is being filled by those who want us to reject science and turn our backs on the future benefits that research can deliver.

Farms and industry must speak out in defense of science or we will lose our ability to advance the industry.

Examples of the anti-science message are all around us, from those who put us all at risk because they don’t trust vaccinations to those who want to ban pesticides, seed treatments or varieties developed through modern biotechnology.

Fortunately we are seeing renewed investment in Canadian agriculture research.

Recently the French firm Limagrain and CANTERRA SEEDS announced a major research partnership.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada along with the Alberta Wheat Commission are partnering with private industry to deliver new varieties to Canadian farmers.

Bayer has recently announced significant investments in wheat breeding in Western Canada.

Richardson’s has recently completed expansion of their research farm in Manitoba and announced plans for a similar facility in Saskatchewan.

These are just a few examples demonstrating great optimism in the future of Canadian agriculture.
The economic benefits delivered by agriculture research and development is part of the Canadian DNA.

In 1904 Dr. Charles Saunders’ first planting of Marquis Wheat was 12 seeds. Less than 20 years later there were 20 million acres of Marquis grown in Western Canada and the U.S. This research, these 12 seeds, opened up the Canadian Prairies, delivered jobs and growth and was the backbone of communities that seemed to spring up overnight.

Marquis Wheat is a powerful demonstration of what research delivers.

I have a sheaf of Marquis Wheat (a little sheaf) on my mantle at home. To me, it is a symbol of what agriculture research will accomplish again – if society lets it happen.

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