Kent Erickson is one of FarmTech’s biggest fans.
The Irma-area farmer began attending the event in 2001 as a university student, has only missed one conference, and since 2007 has served on the planning committee, including a stint as the group’s chair.
“FarmTech is important because it focuses on the education side (of farming),” said Erickson, who crops 5,000 acres along with his dad, wife and four children.
He points to speakers such as Lutz Goedde, a partner in McKinsey & Company — the huge 11,000-employee international consulting firm — who will be giving a keynote presentation on the global agricultural outlook.
Producers need to keep abreast of issues that impact their farms, whether that’s the political turmoil in Ukraine, China’s appetite for food imports, or how online information and social media is making our world smaller, said Erickson, who is chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission.
“Most of our grain now goes to clients in other countries — it is good to get a good perspective as to what is going on in another country,” he said.
A specific issue on Erickson’s radar is pesticide residue levels and he’s looking forward to a presentation at this edition of FarmTech on consumer attitudes towards chemicals used on farms. Increasingly sophisticated technology that allows for residue testing in the parts-per-billion range has come along at the same time as farms are under unprecedented scrutiny by consumers, he noted.
“In Canada we tend to get a good understanding on restrictions on certain chemicals,” said Erickson. “It comes down to sound science and sound decisions.”
Still, will that be good enough for consumers?
Erickson is hoping to gain some insights on that issue from Joe Schwarcz. The director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society is best known as “Dr. Joe,” thanks to his popular radio show, TV appearances, and bestselling books.
Schwarcz will be looking at Agriculture Myths and Facts in terms of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and how farmers need to demonstrate they are using agrochemicals responsibly.
“Consumers are going to make the decisions, — farmers need to be using education and following labels as well,” said Erickson.
Of course, all of these are huge topics, and Erickson concedes many attendees may feel overwhelmed by an avalanche of information.
His advice for coping with information overload?
If you take one or two key points away, you’ve had a successful conference experience, he said, using global marketing as an example.
“How does your grain, sales, decisions along with the application of technology fit into the big picture?”
Over the years, Erickson has taken in a lot of presentations on global economic issues and he said he now feels comfortable looking at those factors as one component when developing a pricing strategy on his farm.
“You can see why grain prices are the way they are and how they are influenced. When Ukraine was having political unrest, wheat prices were affected.”