New programs aim to educate and reassure consumers about agriculture

The province is giving out $10 million for education, building public trust, and ‘sustainability assurances’

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[UPDATE: Aug. 22, 2018]* The next wave of agricultural funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership is open and includes a trio of programs with goals that appear quite different than its predecessor, Growing Forward 2.

The federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, has allocated $3 billion over the next five years to the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. Alberta’s share is $406 million for 15 programs, with Ottawa paying 60 per cent of the cost and the province covering the other 40 per cent.

Among Alberta’s 15 programs are three new ones that will receive $10 million over the next five years: Public Agriculture Literacy, Youth Agriculture Education, and Agriculture and Food Sustainability Assurance Initiatives.

“Through all the programs, we want to move the dial on public awareness of ag,” said Diana Bingham, program co-ordinator for Public Agriculture Literacy. “There is an increased interest in the public in how their food is produced. They do want to know about their food, but they don’t.”

The goal is “to give the public an accurate view of what happens on the farm,” she said.

“We’re not trying to tell them what to believe because some people have different priorities when it comes to how their food is produced,” said Bingham. “We’re just trying to give them the complete scientific information.”

Similarly, the Youth Agriculture Education plank will seek to educate children from kindergarten to Grade 12 about agriculture, providing objective information related to the various components of agriculture — both conventional and organic.

“We’re not saying organic is better than conventional, or vice versa,” said Bingham. “We’re just saying, ‘Here’s the information, now you’re informed, and you can choose which type of food you can consume.’”

The third program, Agriculture and Food Sustainability Assurance Initiatives, is aimed at farmers and agri-food processors. The goal is to develop assurance systems to help sustainably produce and process food.

Bingham said she expects the farmer and processor grant to consume the majority of funding since it will likely involve creating a new assurance program or adapting a pre-existing platform. The Environmental Farm Plan and the Verified Beef Production Plus are two examples that could be used as templates for commodity groups, not-for-profits, and registered agricultural societies that apply for funding, said Bingham.

“They’re going to be very instrumental for us and other programs seeing as they’re the leaders in this assurance area,” she said. “We are going to be learning a lot from them… we’ll then work with other commodities and work through a similar process.”

One of the organizations consulted by provincial officials when developing the program was Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, an industry- and government-supported advocacy group in Guelph, Ont., that promotes public trust in the food system.

The organization’s executive director supports the new Alberta program.

“I’m really energized to see programming like we’re seeing in Alberta to take the insights the CCFI has been working on and putting them to work in Alberta,” said Crystal Mackay.

Consumer polling by her organization has found consumers love farmers and like agriculture but are unsure about industry practices.

“The next piece is they go online for their information, but when they go online they are not finding credible Canadian content,” she said. “Our sector needs to up our game in online conversations and presence… thousands of conversations are happening online and we’re not a part of it.”

The province plans to have two grant annual intake periods, one in the spring and one in the fall. The fall deadline this year is Sept. 21. For more information, go to the Canadian Agricultural Partnership Alberta website.

UPDATE: The fall deadline previously indicated Sept. 21.

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