Earning the respect of urban Canada is becoming the most important role for farmers and their organizations, says Lynn Jacobson of Enchant, president of the Alberta Soft Wheat Producers Commission.
Jacobson old delegates to the group’s annual meeting farmers account for only two per cent of the Canadian population. Only one in every 21 Canadians is a farmer or has a direct link to the agriculture industry, said Jacobson, who also serves as first vice-president of Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, Alberta’s general farm organization.
“With the advent of local food phenomena such as the 100-mile diet and the demand for organic produce, consumers are starting to demand to know where their food was produced, who produced it and the production practices that were used,” said Jacobson.
He said urbanites have little interest or opportunity to grow their own food, and urban regulations forbid animal production. That leaves most urban consumers to rely on environmental or animal rights groups, advertising and messaging, word-of-mouth communication, books or magazines and the Internet for their food information.
“I think this disconnect from the urban population is one of the important issues that the agricultural producers and their organizations will have to deal with,” he said.
“As the relationship with agricultural producers or production widens, many of the people now and in the future who deal with agricultural issues at the local, provincial and federal level of government will have little or very limited experience in agriculture.”
Jacobson said a big problem was averted in Calgary last summer when city officials were contemplating banning the use of pesticides on city land. He said proponents of the bylaw were lead by special interest groups without scientific data.
“The science and the extensive testing and licensing system for the use of pesticides were not even considered,” he said. “The disturbing thing was that many of the groups promoting that bylaw ignored all of the scientific information and regulations surrounding the use of pesticides and chose to use tactics that promoted the fear that people using the public areas that were sprayed were poisoning themselves and their children. Happily, the bylaw did not pass.”
Jacobson said farmers must realize the numbers game can put tremendous power in the urban sector. It means that urban society will be making decisions that affect agriculture. “Without some mechanism to educate and involve the urban population in the decision-making surrounding food production, we will see more instances of special-interest groups promoting ideas and laws that have no basis in science,” he said. “If accepted, such laws could have an effect on how we operate.”
Jacobson welcomed recent news that the federal government is considering the need for a full costing review of the railway grain-handling services. The last full review was in 1992, and farmers want assurances they aren’t paying too much or that service is as good as it can get. “I encourage every producer to get involved in the transportation review when it is announced,” he said. “Producers must help from the grassroots level by talking to MP and MLAs about the severe need for such a study.”