Grain farmers give Ottawa a 25-year plan

A five-year plan was once the norm in management. But even before the world started going haywire (i.e., pre-COVID), doubts were emerging in some circles about anyone’s ability to look that far down the road.
Enter the three-year plan. However, even that was a stretch. Society was changing so quickly that it was hard to imagine a crystal ball being accurate for much more than a year at a time.
Now, not all sectors can work that way. Agriculture, for example, needs long-term plans for research into the likes of new plant variety development and livestock
This is especially true as we look to fewer farmers to feed the world, in the face of a shrinking farmland base, chronic labour shortages, global warming and rising costs
for inputs such as seed and energy.
Shouldn’t a long-term plan be in place to figure out how to address these shortcomings?
The Grain Growers of Canada thinks so. With a federal election on the horizon, this group, representing more than 65,000 cereal, oilseed and pulse producers nationwide, gained the distinction earlier this week of being among the first to the table with policy recommendations for political parties and decision makers to study…and hopefully adopt.
They’re taking an exceptionally long, bold view. They’re calling this new policy document Road to 2050, a “guide for federal government programming.” Follow these
suggestions, Ottawa, and we’ll have a grain sector that can sustainably intensify production while addressing climate change and ensuring the long-term economic prosperity of grain farm priorities.
Road to 2050 has three themes. First, it calls on politicians to position Canada as a global leader in agriculture investment and innovation. That’s a research-heavy ask: it wants more money put toward plant breeding, machinery research, agronomic practices, cell networks and a supportive legislative and regularity framework.
Next, it wants Ottawa to recognize, publicly support and reward grain farmers’ advances. The much-hated carbon tax in particular has generated a general malaise
among farmers towards Ottawa that isn’t getting addressed. And as for recognition, farmers have long thought that they are neither supported nor acknowledged for
sustainability measures they’ve had in place for decades.
Finally, the grain growers want a comprehensive approach to data and metrics development and use. They say Ottawa should work with provinces and industry across
the country to determine accurate and agreed-upon measures, baselines and reporting so that they can best leverage, improve and innovate on measurement and data systems. This is especially relevant as more rural communities get broadband and farmers have greater access to e-technology. But what will they do with all the data they’ll generate? It’s a problem for the future, but many tech savvy farmers are already faced with it.
The growers say these policy recommendations proceed from the core realities that Canadian grain farmers must be profitable to be sustainable, and they must be
globally competitive to be profitable.
Can’t argue with that, Ottawa. Here’s the plan. Listen to the experts.

Photo credit: Grain Growers of Canada

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Farmers lower the boom on spray drift

Ontario is one of the least windy provinces in Canada, except for pockets around the Great Lakes…which is also where the country’s most dense population is found, along with some of its best farmland.
Farmers spray pesticides and herbicides to control bugs and weeds. In windy areas – and indeed,
even in calm areas, where stubborn inversions sometimes occur – farmers need to be concerned about spray draft. That’s the unintended aerial movement of plant protection products away from the intended target.
Pesticides and herbicides that drift onto non-targeted plants in adjacent fields can impact yields and quality. That’s bad enough if it’s the farmers’ own fields that are affected.
But it gets worse when spray drifts onto their neighbours’ operations…waterways, pastures, orchards, gardens and municipal green spaces included. Property lines don’t always stop pesticides and herbicides from working, regardless of where they start, if drift occurs.
Farmers avoid spraying on windy days. Besides the potential agronomic and environmental
troubles, spray drift impacts farmers’ bottom line, which is already stretched to the max. Farm
chemicals are expensive and losing them to the wind is like throwing money away.
To address and more importantly avoid drift problems, a new campaign called Be Drift Aware has been launched by the agriculture and food sector.
The campaign is based on three approaches.
First, it implores farmers to be aware of the size of their sprayer nozzles. This is a science in itself. The larger the droplet size, the less the drift. Bigger droplets are heavier and more likely to stay on course to the target, according to campaign literature.
Second, the campaign suggests lowering sprayer booms to a height that is as low as is practical.
The boom needs to be high enough to ensure complete coverage, it says, but not so high to cause drift.
“A lower boom is a slower boom, and a slower speed reduces drift and improves coverage,” it says.
And finally, the campaign says, be wind aware. You’d think that’s a given: don’t spray when it’s
But how windy? It turns out ideal spraying conditions are when the wind is between 3-10 km/h.
Ironically, if the wind speed is too low and the air is still, an inversion can occur in which droplets are suspended in the atmosphere instead of reaching their target. Drift potential
increases in this scenario.
Of course, some people will ask why farmers need to spray at all. Good question.
Here’s why. As long as insects and weeds are among us, and we want farmers to produce food as
inexpensively as possible, pests that reduce food production will need to be controlled.
Some small farms can manually control pests. But not medium- to large-scale modern farming
operations. And with chronic labour shortages in all sectors, manual labour of any kind is increasingly less attainable.
Thanks to science, today’s farm chemicals are supposed to be safer than ever. They’re more targeted, as is the machinery that applies them…that is, until drift takes over.
So let’s support farmers’ efforts to lower the boom on drift, use as few chemicals as possible and
keep chemicals where they belong.

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Got ads? Got facts? Got milk

Think about your favourite ad. Is it fun and witty, or is it meant to inform? Probably it’s the former; some of the best comedy writers are ad writers.
But whether consumers are well-served by entertaining ads is debatable. They mightget a chuckle out of them, but typically they’re not given any compelling reasons to
change their behaviour.
That kind of thinking prompted a research group in Iowa to test effectiveness of information on dairy sales with 4,500 adults, using milk as a centerpiece.
Here’s why. Fluid milk consumption has been losing ground since the 1960s to soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks. Even though dairy has had some of the most
entertaining ads ever, like the unforgettable and often mimicked “Got Milk?” campaign, sales have lagged and competitors are well-heeled.
With that as a backdrop, the research group wondered if appealing instead to people’s health would have an impact on milk sales.
The old way of thinking about message-laden information was that people didn’t want to be told what to do.
But now, thought the researchers, maybe they do. As they search more deeply for clues to longevity and better health, perhaps they’re increasingly interested in being informed, not just being entertained.
The research results support that suggestion. The researchers found educational materials developed by the dairy sector had an impact reaching consumers through
informational infographics and TV and print ads, and on social media. When consumers are provided with facts about dairy’s nutritional benefits, they become customers. They buy and consume more milk, as well as cheese, ice cream and yogurt. Fact-based information had a significant and positive effect on dairy product purchasing and
consumption, measured prior to the study and then one month later.
Indeed, look at the figures: When given information, average dairy product purchasing increased to 4.4 servings per week, a 26 per cent increase.
Average consumption of dairy products increased too: 23 per cent for cheese, 20 per cent for ice cream, 26 per cent for yogurt, and a whopping 53 per cent for milk.
Overall, consumption rose to eight servings per week, or a 35 per cent jump.
The researchers say their study results demonstrate that carefully constructed educational messages about the benefits and nutritional attributes of dairy foods can
positively influence consumer behavior. It can lead to increased dairy purchases and consumption. And it can help keep you healthy.
The downside? Even with the positive study results, the participants still didn’t reach the recommended 21 servings of dairy per week. So, there’s still a lot of work to do.
This all matters because the dairy sector is a huge advertiser. The ads you often see are based on a farm, meant to combat some people’s perception that dairy production is
mechanical and unfeeling. Instead, the sector wants to show that dairy farmers are family farmers and they hold themselves to a high standard.
They’re certainly entertaining ads and their feel-good factor is off the charts. But as this research shows, some consumers may be ready for a deeper dive.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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Pay special attention to farm safety this week

It’s Canadian Agricultural Safety Week, an annual event designed to draw attention to some of the challenges facing the country’s 190,000 farms. Those who produce our food are engaged in what researchers say is one of Canada’s most dangerous occupations…not to mention, one of Canada’s most important occupations.
The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) says this year, safety week organizers are focusing on providing practical safety advice and encouraging conversations about farm safety, while showcasing how safety directly contributes to the
success and sustainability of farming operations. 
“There is no question that farm accidents can have a devastating toll with physical,psychological and financial consequences,” says Andrea Lear, CASA’s chief executive
officer. “But we also know that many on-farm incidents are preventable. That’s why wewant to provide Canadian producers with the tools and resources they need to protect
the health and safety of everyone who lives and works on or visits farms and ranches. Canadian Agricultural Safety Week serves as a reminder that farm safety is important
year-round and that by working together, we can ensure a safer agricultural sector.” 
Farming in unsafe conditions can lead to injuries and jeopardize the farm operator’s ability to conduct business. Unsafe conditions can take many shapes and have a wide
range of causes, such as deteriorating mental health. Farming is fraught with depression and anxiety. Climate change and wild swings in the weather are making
long- and short-term planning more difficult, adding to farmers’ stress and uncertainty. Just when researchers figured out problems associated with mental health problems, they got worse.
Another unsafe condition can stem from improper farm chemical applications. Commercial-size operators need help fighting pests such as weeds and insects.
Chemicals fit the bill. They’re tested before being released for on-farm use, so they kill only their targets. But if used improperly, pesticides can be a problem.
As well, there’s a school of thought that connects certain pesticides with Parkinson’s disease. It’s hard to nail this down because exposure varies widely, but pesticide applicators like farmers are feared to be the most vulnerable.
And finally, there are dangers to farmers from the rest of us who meet them on roads and highways while they’re moving equipment. This happens particularly during spring
planting and fall harvest, and attitudes towards it have worsened since the COVID pandemic. Canadian researchers have found people are meaner, less patient and more
disrespectful than ever. Common sense would tell you they’re right. Defensive driving has become increasingly important than ever as people frustrated by having their
freedoms taken away try to regain them.
And right in the middle of all this societal upheaval are farmers trying to get their tractors from one field to another. 
Such scenarios are bound to rise earlier than ever as the weather gets warmer sooner and farmers head to their fields to take advantage of the opportunity to get seed in the
ground. We all need to be as vigilant as possible to reduce the dangers of farming.

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U.S. and Europe: How farmers handle stress

What’s Your Story? Farmers struggle with their mental health and with high levels of stress across the U.S. No surprise, it’s happening in Europe, too. Here’s why and what to do about it.
The agricultural export story coming out of Ireland these days is upbeat. Irish food, drink and horticulture exports were up 22% last year, reaching a record high of 16.7 billion euros ($417.8 billion).

That’s good news.

Photo credit: Canadian Mental Health Association

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Soil: Out of the silo, into the spotlight

Soil, once a supporting actor in agriculture, is finally finding its way to the spotlight. It hasn’t quite made it to the red carpet yet, but integrated soil health and management are well on the way to getting top billing, even outside of agricultural circles.
Photo credit:

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In farming and beyond, everyone wants to know you’re real

Musicians struggled in the early 1980s — but not because of sex, drugs, or rock and roll, the usual causes.

Instead, for many of them, their nemesis was video.

And it’s all because of MTV. When the music channel debuted in 1981, musicians had to become actors overnight. Video support for new releases was a key to success, and performers went from fronting a band to following a script.
Photo credit: Etsy

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Senator: Don’t treat soil like dirt

Getting people to care about soil shouldn’t be hard. After all, if our soil is in trouble, then we’re all in trouble, for what should be obvious reasons.

But that hasn’t been the case, at last outside of the farming community.
Photo credit: Catherine Ulitsky, USDA/Flickr

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Worker program deserves the welcome mat

I’m hoping the United Nations special rapporteur on modern slavery, who singled out Canada a few weeks ago for what he believes is a faulty temporary farm worker program, is paying attention to a new report that offers another perspective.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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Urban Cowboy

Raising awareness and promoting dialogue about current food and agriculture issues.


Headshot of Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts is a faculty member in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications program at the University of Illinois. As an agricultural journalist, he is the past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and a lifetime achievement award recipient from the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation. His programs and research papers have been recognized nationally and internationally through awards from the Journal of Applied Communications, the National Agri-Marketing Association, the Association for Communications Excellence, and others.