Gap in understanding between consumers and producers

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business conducted its own survey in response to a recent federal government-commissioned study on public perceptions of agriculture industry

A new survey reveals farmers have a very different perception about the state of agriculture in Canada than consumers do.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), in response to a recent federal government-commissioned study that reported unfavourable public perceptions of the agriculture industry, questioned 523 producers in an attempt to “combat these misconceptions.”

A CFIB release says its report, titled “Realities of Agriculture in Canada,” “sets the story straight” regarding farmer’s use of technology, environmental stewardship, succession plans and growth strategies.

While the government study, commissioned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), revealed “participants generally think about agriculture as not having changed much in the last 10 to 20 years,” farmers surveyed by CFIB said differently.

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Just over half — 51 per cent — of producers said they are adopting new technologies and practices, including GPS tracking systems, wind machines to reduce frost impact, robotic dairy milking, and genomic testing.

“Farming in Canada isn’t an archaic operation. In fact, quite the opposite is true — the variety of business management tools used show that the agricultural operations are sophisticated, strategic and modern,” wrote the CFIB report authors Carly Barefoot and Mandy D’Autremont.

The agriculture sector is growing, according to CFIB, not “shrinking” as participants in the government study indicated. Forty-four per cent of the farmers surveyed said they planned to expand the size of their operation.

Agriculture’s contribution to the Canadian GDP has increased every year since 2007, according to AAFC, with the exception of the economic recession of 2009.

While AAFC’s study found consumers perceived a “declining interest of current and future generations in the (agriculture) sector,” CFIB said 83 per cent of the farmers it surveyed that are leaving their business in the next three years plan to transfer ownership to their children.

Perhaps the largest gap between both groups was revealed through the topic of environmental stewardship. Consumers in the AAFC study raised the issue of “farming practices that are unsustainable and/or potentially environmentally harmful.”

In nearly every discussion, AAFC reports, participants brought up the issue of genetically modified foods and expressed concern about the long-term impact of this approach.

However, the majority of farmers surveyed by CFIB — 95 per cent — said they take action to protect the environment. Just over half of them — 56 per cent — said they have adopted energy conservation practices and 61 per cent said they have improved their management of hazardous products.

“Understanding Canadians’ misconceptions about agriculture is an important first step toward narrowing the disconnect they have with the sector,” the report concluded.

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