It's 2025. Somewhere in Guelph, a physician and a registered professional agrologist are enjoying a cup of coffee, comparing notes about the demands of their respective disciplines.
"When I diagnose a problem, I need to have an appreciation of the entire human body, from tip to toe," explains the physician.
"Lucky you," the professional agrologist shoots back. "I wish my territory was that small and well defined."
Flashback, to the here and now. Agrologists — those who by definition "apply science-based principles in evaluating, designing, formulating or advising on the protection of the environment, health or public welfare (as it relates to the agri-food system)" — are considering a future that's even broader than before.
They already cover the waterfront when it comes to agriculture. They're involved in aspects of animals and plant production, landscape and turf management, government legislation regulation and guidelines, even agricultural communications and extension, and much more.
Now, they're watching the agriculture sector evolve rapidly from its traditional cornerstones of food, feed and fibre, to encompass the emergence of industrial feedstocks, biofuels and nutraceuticals. It's a huge change.
Another development is that they're looking to become a self-regulating body by 2009 or 2010, with registered members — similar to the way engineers, respiratory therapists and 20-plus other professions operate in Ontario. It makes sense to many. Agrologists' work concerns the public, and some of their activities could put the public at risk.
So, they have two choices, says futurist Richard Worzel, who addressed the Ontario Institute of Agrologists' annual general meeting recently, in Guelph. They can be demure and complacent, stay the course and take a risk that a less competent group will assume what could — and probably should — be their role. Or, they can rise to the occasion, seize this unprecedented opportunity and get ready to serve the citizens of Ontario in a self-regulated capacity.
Worzel urged the members to get busy. As one of the estimated 1,000 practising futurists in North America who help people prepare for — not foresee — the future, he believes professional agrologists should seize on their connection with the top priority issue on Canadians' minds — climate change.
It's a chaotic phenomenon. But it's rife with implications for the same soil, water and air that professional agrologists spend their careers being associated with. It makes them relevant to the public.
He also suggested professional agrologists have something to offer those involved in the housing boom. It's predicted that land use for construction and housing will keep growing, especially around the Golden Horseshoe, which will be home to another three million people by 2025. Most will live in cities, and cities will need to expand. As they do, farm land use will continue to butt heads with construction and housing. Worzel says professional agrologists, with their broad understanding of matters such as how soil and water is affected by changing land use, should have a major role in helping harmonize these interests.
Finally, Worzel urges professional agrologists to watch for opportunities to help farmers lessen their dependence on traditional commodities, and become more market oriented. This is based on the emergence of niches, such as organic agriculture and value-added production that includes direct sales from farms to consumers. Professional agrologists can help interpret agriculture for consumers, and play an honest broker role in communicating the truth about crop production and animal husbandry, he says.
This all points to a new and bigger role for professional agrologists. Worzel admits it may sound intimidating, but if the new scenarios come to pass, then the most successful participants will be those who start planning now for ways they can fit in.
Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph.