Agriculture needs your Tweets

Food Day Canada is this Saturday, and many Canadians are preparing by swapping all-Canadian menu ideas on the event’s Facebook page and discussing it on Twitter. The event is based on the hard work and ingenuity of Canadian farmers, and thanks to founder Anita Stewart, recognizes Canadian food and those who produce it. Social media helped Food Day Canada reach across the country; @FoodDayCanada has 26,000 followers – that’s a very impressive number, and is a prime example of contemporary electronic media being there to advance the agri-food sector.

But information sharing can be a two-edged sword, as about 300 participants at Cribit Seeds’ open house found out last week from an expert panel that included former University of Guelph crop scientist Terry Daynard, provincial cereal crop specialist Peter Johnson, and Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Henry Van Ankum. They discussed the best and worst of agriculture in the past quarter-century, and what they anticipated in the future. One major theme was communications; opinions ranged from calling Twitter a ‘remarkable’ development and a tool to challenge questionable information, to saying social media was one of the worst things to happen to agriculture, to discussing the opportunities for communication with consumers about what farmers do.

But there’s a long road ahead. The farm sector’s profile can be enhanced through social media, but relatively few are on Twitter. And since the public wants and needs to hear from farmers according to the panel, more should join. As Food Day Canada approaches, think about these issues, but don’t forget to remember how lucky we are to be blessed with amazing food, dedicated farmers, and progressive local farm-owned companies like Cribit Seeds.

 

 Farmers gathered for Cribit's Seeds anniversary event heard social media has been a curse and a blessing. Photo credit to Erin Calhoun.

Farmers gathered for Cribit’s Seeds anniversary event heard social media has been a curse and a blessing. Photo credit to Erin Calhoun.

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Reduce food waste to keep costs low, says report

As a society, we spend a lot more time and energy dealing with the waste we produce than preventing it. According to a new report, Developing an Industry-Led Approach to Addressing Food Waste in Canada, that’s not the right approach to Canada’s $27-billion food waste problem. Everyone in the food chain is affected, from consumers to farmers. Farmers lose significant profits by paying to produce food that gets thrown away.

In fact, up to 40 per cent of what farmers produce gets thrown away. That means there’s a lot of room for improvement to keep money in grower’s pockets to ultimately keep the price of food in check. According to Dr. Martin Gooch, the report’s co-author, food waste is highest during fruit and vegetable season, when consumers purchase in bulk to save money but rarely end up consuming everything. Consumers purchase more and no longer aim to can or preserve food to stretch out their use period. The kitchen is where most food is wasted, with over half of food waste attributed to consumers.

Up to 40% of what farmers produce gets thrown away. Photo credit to www.theguardian.com

Up to 40% of what farmers produce gets thrown away. Photo credit to www.theguardian.com

If people are going to waste less food they need guidance such as recipes and options, and smaller sized packages even if they’re less economical. I think people would rather pay more for a smaller quantity and use it all than pay for a larger amount and watch it rot. Advanced storage options for some commodities to lengthen shelf life are being researched with support from the Ontario government at the University of Guelph. You can read the full report at http://goo.gl/mMtBHj.

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Sustainable, sophisticated farming works for everyone

For a lot of people, crop protection means traditional chemicals applied to plants to ward off insects and disease. For farmers, it means preventing losses and maintaining quality in their livelihood. For BASF, it means spending $2 million a day on research to create alternatives to traditional chemicals to increase appeal to farmers and consumers alike. BASF calls itself The Chemical Company, and with 20 new products expected to be introduced this year and next, it’s clear to see why.

The increasing voice of consumers coupled with farmer concerns is driving this change. Farmers are concerned with pest resistance resulting from relying too heavily on a given chemical, a problem in recent years. The solution has often been more chemicals, a vicious cycle of resistance and new developments. BASF has created a new “functional crop care” division that includes alternatives that complement the company’s conventional approaches, including so-called biological treatments that make seeds and plants stronger and more able to tolerate tough conditions. To help implement this new approach, BASF has hired a number of field staff to visit farms and help farmers manage their crops. This is good news for farmers- diversified crop protection gives them more options and allows them to be economically and environmentally sustainable.

Here's me with BASF's Rob Miller, one of my former students, at BASF's Holly Springs research station in North Carolina.

Here’s me with BASF’s Rob Miller, one of my former students, at BASF’s Holly Springs research station in North Carolina.

It is important for this good news to be shared with consumers. When agricultural biotechnology was introduced 20 years ago, the industry made the mistake of not informing consumers what was going on. The industry is still paying for this lack of judgement; some consumers will still seek non-GMO products with no real knowledge about that genetically modified organisms are, except they think that they are bad. Consumers should be as informed as possible about new biological treatments, while farmers should have the necessary knowledge to not only know how to use it, but explain it to others too- and help bridge the gap between rural and urban Canada.

 

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