I was hiking on Vancouver Island when I took the call from an unknown number. It lasted about 20 minutes. I listened. It was compelling and telling.
The caller, who had apparently sleuthed for my number, said that I had “singlehandedly reversed all the good work done to ban agricultural pesticides.”
In my next column, he said, I should reneg of my call for balanced reporting on glyphosate, and instead condemn it as harmful.
He had every right to call, and I made sure he said what he needed to before we exchanged goodbyes.
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I get emails of this nature, too (and I read them), the most common criticism being that I am a shill for the big agricultural companies.
Until the public sees agriculture and the agricultural landscape for what it is and quits calling a circle a square, the attempts by me and anyone else trying to convey an honest picture of what it’s like to farm in Canada will be perceived as kowtowing to the fictitious puppeteer of big ag.
Bayer is a large company. Corteva is a large company. I get this.
My point isn’t an agricultural one. It’s a human one. Look around you. Your smartphone, your computer, your vehicle were all made by corporations large enough that they should — all things equal — trigger the same level of distrust many have for agricultural companies.
This is fine. Life is full of inconsistencies and weak logic. I’m in no position to cast stones.
No company is above reproach. Bayer isn’t. Corteva isn’t. They all handle a lot of money and deserve the accountability that should accompany high valuations and formidable market shares.
But, it’s not clear that the intelligentsia holding ag to account and ultimately affecting policy understands this. To aim the spotlight at them and judge their actions on a rubric that doesn’t apply is not effective. And it’s one the sector is still figuring out how to navigate.
Buying Roundup is not like walking up to the counter at an Apple store to buy a phone. Farmers don’t dream about ag chemicals and then, one day, give in to an impulse to purchase a product that will put a smile on their faces until a new chemistry comes along.
We routinely refer to the things we need to grow a healthy crop as tools. These are the things needed to grow the crops we grow in the agricultural landscape as it exists today. The goal is quality crops for strong markets.
Farmers use glyphosate and other synthetic chemicals on the crops they grow because this is farming in Canada today. It didn’t happen overnight. Today is a point in time along a trajectory that farmers and the industry supporting it have largely navigated on their own.
Canada’s agricultural landscape needs to be better defined. To some, farms are pristine, innocent, bucolic. To others, farms resemble factories — soulless, scorched landscapes in need of regulatory intervention. It is neither.
Farmers were once required to be independent, inventive and frugal. And the farms they settled have been developing over the past 100 to 200 years. The government incentivized the settling of its lands by selling them for a nominal fee through the Dominion Lands Act.
If I were a betting person, I would guess that if the purpose of this column is to make Canada’s agricultural sector more transparent, some farmers would say it’s not worth it, speaking to the longstanding sentiment that this whole crop production system is working fine without the opinions of those who only pay attention when ag is headline news.
As a nation, we produce a lot of agricultural products. In Ontario, there are about 10-million acres designated as cropland. Manitoba has about 11 million acres. Saskatchewan, about 37 million. And Alberta, 23 million.
That’s only four provinces. This is happening in our country. This is the current landscape. It’s huge. And it’s exciting in ways a lot of people have chosen to remain blind to. All I am trying to do is paint a picture of what it means to farm in Canada today.