What is agriculture?
A typical definition includes words like ‘farming’, ‘tillage’, ‘husbandry’, but agriculture is so much more! Agriculture today includes manufacturing which supplies the latest technology in crop production, animal production, transportation, food processing, packaging, and more. Agriculture also includes the scientists developing new disease resistant crops, geneticists advancing animal production, and food safety technicians ensuring we have a safe food supply. In Canada alone, 1 in 8 jobs is in agriculture, employing 2.3 million Canadians, and the sector contributes over $100 billion (or 11 per cent) to Canada’s GDP.
How has technology advanced agriculture?
New processing equipment and methods have improved food and animal safety. Drones, robots, driverless tractors – information technology has certainly found a great partner in agriculture! GPS enables agricultural producers to employ variable rate technology, ensuring efficient use of inputs, and helps minimize waste, save money, and maximize production. The ability to analyze and mine the data that these systems collect represents opportunity for even further advancements.
New crops that are disease- and pest-resistant, have a longer shelf life, and have improved nutritional content are being developed using genetic modification and more recently gene editing technology. Gene transference occurs naturally, and this technology is used to transfer only targeted genes. This is the same technology that has developed insulin and certain vaccines and antibodies. For more information on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), please see http://www.gmoanswers.com.
How are changing consumer demands impacting agriculture?
Consumers are becoming more discriminating about the food they consume, demanding certain quality attributes (organic, high protein, peanut-free, soy-free, gluten-free, etc.) and elevated assurances regarding food safety. Some demands are driven by the increase in food allergies and intolerances or increased health consciousness. Some demands are driven by trends or, sometimes, misinformation.
These consumer demands result in stricter regulations, labelling requirements, and certifications. Agriculture must continue to be innovative, connected to the consumer, and agile to meet demands, all while remaining competitive, environmentally responsible, and sustainable.
What are some of the challenges facing Canadian agriculture?
a. Meeting rising food demand. Production is impacted directly by weather and climate change, lack of human resources, crop & animal diseases, and access to capital. We need to continuously improve technology, crop varieties, crop- and animal husbandry practices to keep up with world food demand.
b. Consumer perception of modern agriculture. There exist negative perceptions about technological advances, food safety, animal welfare, and environmental impacts. These can be overcome with consumer education, transparency, and increasing engagement with the industry.
c. Sustainability. We have only one planet, and the industry continues to focus on increased food production without sacrificing water security or depleting natural resources. The consumer also has a role to play to minimize waste. The United Nations estimates that one-third of the world’s food is wasted, so we can all play a part in ensuring the food we produce is efficient and sustainable.
d. Trade barriers and restrictions for imports and exports. Canada relies heavily on exports; over $50 billion annually and roughly half of our production goes to export. When a country imposes trade sanctions, it can have a monumental impact. For example, 90 per cent of Canada’s canola goes to export, contributing $19 billion to the economy.
e. Lagging productivity. Compared to other developed countries, Canada processes much less of our raw material. There is huge potential for Canada to increase our processing and export more value-added consumer products. This requires innovation and investment.
Why is agriculture so important?
Everyone must eat, and agriculture provides us with the safe food the world needs to survive. The world will need to produce 60 per cent more food by 2050 to feed our growing population. We can all play our part. For more information, check out http://www.agriculturemorethenever.ca or http://www.aitc-canada.ca.