by Shelley Jones

Improving the public perception of agriculture is a strategic priority for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. It is written right into our business plan. As a government, it is our goal to see the industry grow. But without the public’s understanding, the public’s trust, and the public’s permission, our growth could be constrained. 

We must maintain our social license. 

Saskatchewan is in a unique position to provide solutions for the growing world. We have over 40 per cent of Canada’s farmland, a commercial sector that is ‘open for business’, and I may be biased, but I would say a government that is very supportive of agriculture. 

‘Feeding the world’ may sound cliché, but that’s exactly what we are trying to do here. But growing more with less will take continued innovation, investment and people.

As farmers and ranchers, we pride ourselves on being responsible stewards of our land, of our animals and of the environment. That’s what we’ve done for centuries, and what we plan to do for centuries more. 
You probably don’t know that we prepare environmental farm plans, develop and employ best management practices, and adhere to industry animal codes of care and conduct. It would be counterproductive if we didn’t.  

As an industry, we are rigorously regulated, based on sound science: Science that you use in your kitchens every day. Science that agriculture needs to continue to sustainably advance the industry.
Science, like genetic engineering; a process that has allowed us to grow abundant canola crops, producing healthy oil while reducing our tillage of the soil, our carbon emissions, and our use of pesticides.

Good science makes good sense. But the public remains skeptical. 

Canada boasts one of the safest, most abundant, and affordable food supplies in the world.

As a sector, our economic and social contributions are significant–but we haven’t done a very good job of telling people about it. 

We are also future-forward. 

Agriculture in Saskatchewan is modern, technologically advanced and market driven. In 1900, one farmer fed 10 people. Today’s farmer feeds over 120.
Our producers are business oriented and social media savvy. We employ over two million Canadians. That’s one in every eight jobs. In Saskatchewan, it’s over 50,000 (more than oil and gas). It’s 10% of our GDP. We have 15 markets with more than $200 million in sales, and $12.6 billion in farm cash receipts.  

Agriculture is big business. As consumers, we used to spend half our disposable income on food. Now we spend just 10%.
Saskatchewan is Canada’s leading agri-food exporter with more than $13.9 billion in exports last year.  

That included grains, oilseeds, beef, pork, and value-added foods and food ingredients. 

We produce 99% of the country’s chickpeas (that’s hummus to you!).

Agriculture isn’t Old McDonald’s farm anymore. It has changed – a lot. It had to. 
We needed to become more sustainable, both environmentally and economically.

As some of the most prolific producers in the world, we also have a moral obligation to do what we can to meet the demands of a growing global population.

But sometimes we feel a little vulnerable. Trends, movements, and celebrity endorsements make us feel that way. 

As an example, eating local is all well and good, but in Saskatchewan, that means no fresh fruit in February. We like our Florida oranges. We love our New Zealand kiwis. And we welcome our Mexican avocadoes for Cinco de Mayo celebrations in May – just like India enjoys our lentils and Japan eats up our beef. 

International trade provides us with the variety we all seek. 

Love our Saskatchewan food. Love it in Regina, in Vancouver and in Toronto. But also support our option and obligation to allow our international customers to love Saskatchewan food, too.  

Help us dispel some myths. Like local food is somehow more sustainable, healthier or safer. Or that organic food is more nutritious than food that is grown conventionally. Myths like meat can somehow be hormone free, or that chickens prefer to be free range vegetarians.

Myths like these, perpetuated by activists and by marketers, have the capacity to hurt our industry. Often, they incite or promote unnecessary, burdensome and costly regulation, based on emotion rather than science, increasing our cost of production, with no way for us to recoup them from the marketplace. It impedes our capacity to grow.

Activists sometimes question our ethics and vilify us for what we do, celebrities are hailed as experts, and influencers have become educators.

We acknowledge that agriculture isn’t always pretty. But there is sound rationale and regulation behind everything we do.

As an industry, we need to be open to change. We aren’t perfect, but we recognize that we must commit to constant improvement. 

We want to be transparent. We welcome you through our gates. Ask us your tough questions, and we will give you honest answers.

We just need to talk to each other – regularly, and with accuracy and authenticity.

As Canadians, urban or rural, we may not always speak the same language. But we do share the same values. 

Shelley Jones: Rancher’s daughter, proud Agvocate, and Manager, Agriculture Awareness, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture



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