Farmers have benefited from trade deals and new technologies in improving production standards, and recent federal government funding toward agricultural research development has been positively received. Efforts to raise public awareness of these advancements in farming could help build public trust, and appreciation for the agricultural sector.

Canadian farmers have ridden the same wave of technology and innovation largely seen in other industries, yet a broader dialogue with the government and consumers is needed to highlight the benefits of this work while also bringing consumer awareness to the table.

Once an intergenerational family occupation, farming has become considerably more sophisticated. Innovative practices and new technologies have made farmers more efficient and strategic than ever.

Calls for tax reform or renegotiating trade deals, particularly in the United States, have shifted some federal government policy in Ottawa toward farmers. While just over half of farms in Canada are still sole proprietorships, 25 percent were incorporated as of 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

“When looking at tax policy, you have to look at a number of things with respect to farms,” says Ron Bonnett, the President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. “One is making sure they have the capital to invest, whether it’s for buying new equipment or buying new farms. Another is ensuring they’re not getting taxed heavily on money set aside waiting to be used in the business.”

Trade impact

While there are fewer farms numbers-wise now than in previous years, the average size of each farm has grown. Existing trade agreements, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the U.S. and Mexico, have benefited farmers in Canada to help fuel that growth, Bonnett says.

Regional trade between the three countries has more than tripled since 1994, and the agricultural sector has been one of the spearheads, keeping pace with overall growth. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement still hasn’t gone ahead, though Bonnett believes it would help farmers to access new markets.

“We see TPP as a great opportunity for some of our export commodities, particularly to Japan,” he says. “The Prime Minister was recently in China talking about improving trade, which would also help farmers export to the growing middle class there. With NAFTA, there may be a few irritants, but let’s try and streamline that to improve the flow of goods, not create more barriers to trade.”

Research and awareness

Making Canadian agriculture more attractive to both domestic and foreign markets may require collaboration. Bonnett sees a role for both federal and provincial legislators, especially in the ministry portfolios covering environment, health, and food and agriculture.

The 2017 budget earmarked $70 million over six years to support agricultural science and innovation. Bonnett believes it would help to use some of that funding toward better water usage techniques, plant research, and dealing with the impact of climate change on farms.

Government officials could also help lead a discussion on raising consumer awareness about best practices in modern farming. Utilizing social media to help bridge the divide may help, Bonnett suggests.

“The whole issue of public trust has to be a partnership, right from the producer level up to the retail level, and government has to be there as a partner as well,” he says. “We want the public to have an understanding of how these new technologies interact with the environment and do a better job of producing higher-quality food for consumers.”