If we are to spread our wings in agriculture, it is often a good idea to look around. We gain an appreciation of the whole of agriculture if we look at all of it, rather than be limited to our sector.
There are many good examples of how commitment can bring something into the mainstream. The many hours spent in promotion, meetings and advertising has made the Certified Angus Beef program the most recognized brand in the North American beef industry. No-till farming was not easy to sell at first and now is our greatest contributor to a low environmental footprint. To get there, many people gave of time and talent. Canada did not become the world’s leading exporter of lentils by chance. There was heart behind the story that took us to first place — and time given by those within the commodity.
As always, there is more to agriculture than meets the eye and most certainly there is a world to discover beyond our fenceline.
Canada is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup and supplies tons of apples, cherries, cranberries and blueberries (we are the world’s largest producer of wild blueberries) to trading partners overnight. We have young enthusiastic farmers paying $100,000 an acre for land because they have markets for tomatoes (while growing a record 165 pounds per square metre), cucumbers and peppers both in North America and abroad. Canadians bought seven billion of their own eggs this past year and we are the second-largest exporter of malting barley in the world. We grow 150 varieties of potatoes and make more than 700 kinds of cheese. We sell hundreds of millions of dollars in genetics, flowers, and oils and more than 1.5 million Christmas trees.
There is room for every farmer and it is our differences that should be embraced.
Organic foods are marching ahead at a record pace and farmers’ markets sold $1 billion worth of product last year. New Canadians are wanting for new products such as goat and ethnic veggies like okra. Canadian manufacturers export food made from farm products to billions of people and our own consumers fill their basket with 70 per cent Canadian food. From salad and samosas to Korean ribs and sauerkraut, there is a growing demand for safe, quality food that Canadian farmers produce and manufacturers add value to.
- More with Brenda Schoepp on the Alberta Farmer: Sowing gardens – and hope for a brighter future
Farming has the privilege of being without the constraint of border, class, caste, gender, religion or politics. It is a united effort around the world to better our families and feed the community or world around us. That is why it is a self-imposed restraint to our intelligence to only hang out in the beef sale barn, the chicken symposium, or the blueberry field day.
To ‘cross over to the other side’ is an exhilarating learning experience. For an article on one ag sector, I might first read about cars, human health, chickens, urban trends, tobacco, or human rights. Or tour a blueberry field or a kiwi-packing plant. There are both commonalities and something new to learn. More often it is the events in another industry that cause me to do a comparative analysis of the industry that I am in. Being with other farmers, scientists, and processors outside of beef is where the real learning is.
That is why I am so strongly supportive of young farmer groups. The only criteria for joining one is being under 40 years of age. It is an open platform for dialogue where there is gender equality, creative thinking, and an opportunity to address and solve problems specific to young farmers. If you are a young farmer and not involved then consider joining. A young farmer group is fun, without the boundaries of the farm in which you live, or work and you are not committed to one policy toward an end. This is the Silicon Valley of agriculture where the goal is to network and share ideas. What you take home is your call.
There are young farmer groups from British Columbia to Newfoundland, and the umbrella Canadian Young Farmers Forum (@CYFF or cyff.ca). Last January, Alberta launched the new Alberta Young Farmers & Ranchers (@AYFR_NETWORK or facebook.com/ayfrnetwork). Check out the many events held across Canada and plan to attend. This is your time to stretch the limits of your imagination and get into a great discussion with other young farmers. You can wear whatever hat you like that identifies the important sector you represent, but at the end of the day we are all farmers working for the greater good.
As we turn the corner on the year 2015, remember that one in eight jobs in our nation is in agriculture and a full 98 per cent of our farms are family farms. Recognize that more than 50,000 people enter an agricultural career every year and that when it comes to contributing to the economy of our nation, agriculture trumps oil and gas.
Ag is it! As young farmers you are our current and future leaders. Shouldn’t you get together on this?