Leslie Siewert, 13, of Cayley was the junior winner in the Alberta Young Speakers for Agriculture competition (which was held as a virtual event this year). Her topic was: Lessons learned over the last 25 years of agriculture — and how we can apply it to the next 25.
Agriculture is killing the planet; cows fart too much and emit dangerous ozone gases; the beef you eat is pumped full of hormones and antibiotics; the food you eat is drenched in pesticides and chemicals; farmers are getting rich on the backs of immigrants who are treated like slaves; animals are abused and mistreated from birth until they’re on your plate.
And these are just some of the lies that have been told about agriculture over the past few years.
Over the past 25 years, one of the biggest lessons we have learned is the power of social media. Activists have used it to spread lies and misleading information about every aspect of food production.
Over the next 25 years, we must use this powerful tool to spread the truth about agriculture to combat those lies. The average time one single person spends on social media is three hours per day. Today, 3.6 billion people have social media and, in 2025, the estimated number of people with social media will be 4.41 billion. Most people post once a day, sometimes even twice a day.
There are about 250 million farmers in the world today. If every farmer posted even just once a week promoting agriculture, the entire world would be notified about what’s really going on!
Sadly, more people post demoting agriculture, rather than promoting it.
But in the next 25 years, if we work together, I believe that we can notify everyone in the world about the truth in agriculture.
Gone are the days that consumers had a connection and close relation to the farm. Today, very few consumers have ever even been on a farm and seen how their food is produced, let alone contributed to the hard work and dedication required to produce that food. They have easily bought into the lies that are voiced at them through the internet and social media.
This is a battle that farmers have largely lost because we believe that producing good healthy food is enough. In this emerging world, it is not enough.
People want more. They want answers to questions that have been made up by activists trying to destroy our agriculture sector. To prove to the people of today how our agriculture sector operates, we must reach out to the community and communicate the truth.
Sixty per cent of people’s jobs depend on agriculture. If agriculture gets shut down, more jobs will be lost than jobs were lost because of COVID-19. If all jobs connected to agriculture were lost, 4.68 billion people would be without jobs, and they would still have a family to feed.
With the Earth’s growing population, we cannot afford to lose agriculture.
Since you started listening to this speech, 500 more people have come onto this planet. That’s 500 more mouths to feed, all on the same amount of land. We will have to use all the knowledge we have conjured up in the past 25 years to be able to feed the 9.8 billion people that there will be on the world in 2050.
How will we do that?
We must do what we have done to support the Earth’s ever-growing population since the beginning of time — we must strengthen the industries of growing, processing, transporting, storing and selling food and products of agriculture.
But we cannot do it alone.
If we all banded together, and work together for the greater good, we can accomplish this. COVID-19 is a great example of how the community is coming together to stop a common threat. If we can learn from this experience, we will accomplish great things.
Now you may be thinking, ‘Well, where do I fit in?’ That’s a great question.
To begin with, 54,400 new jobs are available in agriculture every year, and only 29,400 people are trained to fill them. That’s 25,000 jobs per year ready for you to take.
The jobs you could fill may surprise you. Agriculture is more than just farming. There are thousands of jobs to be filled in science, information technology (IT), education, marketing, procurement, finance, and much, much more.
For example, tractors collect data to help farmers reduce the use of land, water, and more, all while growing more food. Just with that, agriculture needs computer scientists, IT and intelligent systems specialists, engineers, and software developers.
Another example is seed companies, which are working to make pest- and disease-resistant varieties, and to make healthier and tastier food. To accomplish this, we need people with expertise in plant science, engineering, research, food processing, health science, and biology. And because of the lack of social media presence, we need experts in public relations, social media, communications, just like me, giving this speech.
The next time someone tells you cows are killing the planet, you might want to tell them the whole story, such as telling them that 80 per cent of what cattle eat cannot be digested by humans. Grazing cattle keep native rangelands intact, maintain wildlife habitat, and support biodiversity. Rangelands are the planet’s largest contributor to carbon capture, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Or perhaps you want to share how 35 per cent of Canada’s agricultural lands cannot support crops, but can be used to produce high-quality protein in the form of beef.
Now you can tell everyone the real story of agriculture’s effect on the planet.
Twenty-five years ago, we were farming, but not as good as we are today. Today, we have many innovations to help us, but now, people don’t understand what really happens on the farm.
In the next 25 years, we can stand together. We can form an unstoppable union.
Let’s work together to feed, clothe, and provide for the world, for many years to come.
Let’s change the world for tomorrow, the next day, and for forever.
Let’s grow the world into something new, together.