The face of agriculture in Canada is changing. Technology and big data are transforming the industry, while a new generation of tech-savvy farmers and agriculture professionals are replacing the old guard. La Coop fédérée, representing over 90,000 members grouped into nearly 70 cooperatives across the country, has been serving Canadian farmers for 95 years as a provider of all the goods and services growers need. As the agriculture landscape changes, La Coop fédérée is recognizing the need to change with it.

“The technology level has gone up so much that the expertise required to be a farmer has increased dramatically,” says Casper Kaastra, the General Manager of Crop Production in La Coop fédérée’s Agribusiness Division. “We’ve long understood the complex environmental impacts related to agriculture, as well as things like changing weather patterns. That complexity has always been there, but our ability to adapt and change within it is evolving and improving. Technology and innovation are key drivers of that.”

Local entrepreneurs in a global landscape

This means that La Coop fédérée is moving beyond being solely a supplier of the physical inputs of agriculture, and is becoming a supplier of data and analytics as well. “The new generation needs more tools, and because they are better informed, they need a partner who is at least as informed as they are and who is able to show them the good information from the bad,” says David Arseneau, the General Manager of Livestock Production in La Coop fédérée’s Agribusiness Division. “They’re expecting us to always have good information and to be able to quickly provide them with the data they need to make the best decisions. We have to be the experts who can help them interpret that data.”

It’s particularly critical that Canada’s independent farmers gain access to this level of technical expertise so that they can stay on a level playing field with their larger corporate competitors. “Local entrepreneurship is a big strength of agriculture in our country,” says Sébastien Léveillé, the Executive Vice President of La Coop fédérée’s Agribusiness Division. “Good agriculture needs proximity and local expertise. What we try to do is give these smaller local entrepreneurs all the advantages of the biggest players in the industry.”

Agriculture is not just about driving a tractor

These changes are transforming not just the agriculture industry but, of necessity, its workforce as well. “Agriculture is becoming more and more technology intensive, and we don’t just need people with agricultural backgrounds,” says Léveillé. “We need engineers, marketing people, communications people, and accountants. We need people who understand technology and are fascinated by finding new ways to connect people and technology together. This is a very interesting time to be a new professional in agriculture.”

It’s essential, then, that young people from all walks of life start considering agriculture as a career. The good news is that a social shift in the way we think about food and agriculture is beginning to facilitate this change. “Today, being involved in agriculture is more glamourous than it used to be twenty years ago,” says Arseneau. “People care more about what they are eating. They want to know how their food is being produced, and they are interested in the people who are producing it.”

So the interest is there, the opportunity is there, and, increasingly, Canadians are recognizing how tremendously rewarding a career in agriculture can be, particularly in the context of cooperatives. “It’s so concrete what we do in agriculture, and there is a big draw to that,” says Léveillé. “When you work here, you have a real impact. We’re feeding the world.”