Data ownership and who pays for sustainability measures are just two of many issues farmers must grapple with
There is a lot of pressure on farmers to adopt sustainable practices, digitize, understand carbon, conserve water, and add value.
What are the top five areas in which all farmers should be asking questions? And what might those questions be?
Although Canada’s goals are towards net-zero carbon emission, there is just as great a value in understanding carbon sequestration.
As carbon is essential to build soil, it makes sense to fully utilize the soil as a tool to help balance the carbon picture. There should be a financial benefit in doing so for the farm and for investors.
Large companies that cannot lower emissions have now turned to agriculture to buy carbon credits. This will be a future revenue stream for forests and farms.
Producers should be asking what the legal implications are for them if the land is changed, altered or sold. Does the buyer have a right or caveat on that property because they have entered into a long term agreement for the sequestration? How does the investment transfer and what if they need that credit themselves — can two parties claim carbon on the same land?
Intellectual property is grossly misunderstood and laws are different in different countries.
If the data is collected on farm but stored in the cloud, then it is still the farmer’s data until they permit its use. At this point, most farmers have given away that value because they have not understood their legal rights.
As all things become digitized this is a critical piece in our farming future.
The data that resides in a farmer’s name and especially in their hardware is their property. For example, the benchmark information you have on your cattle belongs to you and has a value up the chain and can be sold. What happens when that data is converged, mixed or pooled? Who owns the intellectual property then?
As food and farming in the future is in the digital space, farmers must know how to participate in and profit from sustainable digital systems as part of the value chain and the supply chain.
Value and supply chains
In systems where there is an expectation of measurement or outcome, then the farmer must also profit. A value chain and a supply chain have to create value for the primary person who produced the food.
It is important to understand that incentives or credits are not value. True value is derived or created by a practice that is marketable and where there is a buyer that pays for it.
For example, farmers will foot the bill to change a practice when asked or regulated to do so. That measurable change is a salable virtue.
Who pays for it past the point of production? As the expectations of measurable outcomes based agriculture increase, farmers must ask who determines the value and who shares in the cost. Will the buyer, food processor or end-user pay and if so, how is that translated down the chain?
Skilled labour shortages are plaguing the agriculture and food sectors.
If diversity is our competitive advantage and the future of agriculture relies on a diverse and talented labour pool, we must position agriculture as a job or career of choice.
Certainly the labour profile will shift as the industry demands more from information technology, but IT does not yet pick cherries, sort cows, load pigs or drive a combine.
It is fair to say that there has been decades of foot-dragging on the labour issue and that the inequalities within agriculture in regards to gender, pay equity, housing and benefits are wide, and can often be confusing or discouraging. A strong social component is very much a part of the challenge and finding cross-sectorial solutions are critical.
Agriculture needs talent.
What will it take for governments and academia to fully appreciate, invest in and promote agriculture as an academic stream? What policies do we need to promote in order to ensure we can access a talented labour stream?
We can produce food without sunlight or even soil, but we have yet to produce food without water.
Farmers are asked to conserve water in their production practices and technology ensures that water use is highly efficient. Other industries may not be so diligent, and as trees are harvested and lands expropriated for mining, resource development and urban development, the Earth will continue to heat up and dry out.
One-fifth of the world’s fresh water is found in Canada but there is no reason to be complacent; for countries will soon fight for it or expect our water to be abundant and clean so they can continue to import Canadian food products.
What will Canada do to protect water for all future generations? What can farmers do to influence policy on water, water use and water protection?
These five areas are important to every farm and ranch and need to be addressed so farmers know their value, their rights and can capitalize on the opportunities in the changing systems that are in agriculture today.