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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Animal care conduct code is the next step for farmers  

One thing farmers and consumers can agree on is that animal abuse is a terrible occurrence. Whether it’s companion animals or livestock, people- including farmers- are shocked when abuse videos surface. Farmers know consumers won’t put up with it and are afraid that these videos will turn the public against animal agriculture. Pressure is mounting for farmers to develop their own codes of conduct to prove to the public their commitment to animal care.

The increasing sophistication of animal rights groups, especially those with extremist views are undermining the trust people have traditionally held with farmers. These groups are increasingly getting behind the scenes to get on decision and policy makers’ radar. They’re even appearing in the public eye as a measured voice, such as offering advice on caring for your pets in hot weather. For them, it’s about persistence rather than victory. But the prevalence of animal rights groups and their agenda means farmers need to treat it seriously if they are going to win any arguments about their practices and production. The ability to produce safe, wholesome food largely depends on consumers and policy makers having a deeper understanding about what farmers do and why they do it.

One way farmers are working to demonstrate their commitment to animal care is by supporting research. No matter how you feel about animal rights or welfare, your position will be stronger if it is backed by science; farmers are well versed with this knowledge. Some practices, though backed by science, can look and sound bad to consumers. But science also leads to better ways to protect and keep food animals, and how to give them a dignified existence. Many farmers also develop their own code of conduct, outlining how livestock should be treated on their farm. Codes of conduct exist to protect the safety and welfare of animals on the farm while representing the farmer’s values. Although these codes will not eliminate the kind of abuse shown in many of these shock videos, but certainly go a long way in showing how conscientious farmers are and how much they care for their animals.

Photo credit to www.thebullvine.com

Photo credit to www.thebullvine.com

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Farmland most important factor in food production

Farmers are able to grow more food on less land than ever before, thanks in part to great scientific advancements. But they don’t always have a choice, either; we’re losing farmland at an alarming rate, largely because of urban sprawl and development. Despite high-profile measures at the Greenbelt, we’re losing an estimated 100 acres of farmland every year according to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

Only five per cent of Ontario land is suitable for agriculture, and more often than not this is also the land being paved over to make room for new development. But the province’s other large general farm organization, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO) thinks there could be a new hope for farmland preservation with the new government. A new program called Farms Forever was proposed during the Liberal election campaign. The program is designed to lessen farmland loss through agricultural easements, and that willing farmers could receive tax credits or other incentives to protect their farms with these easements to prevent future non-agricultural development in the future. CFFO is also optimistic because of the new minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ted McMeekin. The former Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs minister could ensure the approaching review period for the Greenbelt, Niagara Escarpment, and Oak Ridges Moraine Plans is sensitive to the needs of agricultural land.

Agricultural land for sale for development. Photo credit www.landforsalecanada.blogspot.com

Agricultural land for sale for development. Photo credit www.landforsalecanada.blogspot.com

I hope they’re right. Although we have been warned of farmland disappearance for ages, most Canadians do not feel urban sprawl is affecting them. Farmers are able to grow more crops and raise more livestock on less land. But in order to do this, farmers need some support for research-based approaches like biotechnology, one movement being increasingly met with opposition from the public. Efforts are also underway to create urban and vertical farming to produce food, but right now, nothing replaces farmer’s fields for food production. Let’s preserve what’s left.

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