2003: The Alberta Barley Commission’s Annual
General Meeting last week in Red Deer, Alberta, gave me an
opportunity to get a fresh perspective on prairie farming
and to speak about the need to get farming beyond cheap food,
beyond a narrow focus on the production of bulk undifferentiated
Alberta’s approach to research and innovation differs
from Ontario’s. Some time ago they turned tax dollars
designated for research and innovation over to an institute
at arms length from government and encouraged scientists and
innovators to compete for those dollars. Ontario has long
used a direct contract between the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture
and Food and the University of Guelph while the Agricultural
Research Institute of Ontario provides guidance on priorities.
Alberta has now added a research and innovation strategic
framework that targets, on the one hand, a modest increase
in farm gate receipts while calling for sustainable agriculture
with an eye on consumer interest in “natural, wholesome
and safe products.” On the other hand the framework
proposes a doubling of economic activity in the food chain
beyond the farm gate in just a decade. The emphasis is not
on “still more raw materials.”
A presentation by the polling firm Ipsos- Reid documented
the changing interests and concerns of Canadians about food.
The highlights included:
- The number of consumers who make a meal from scratch
everyday is down to twenty-seven percent (27%).
- Half of Canadians now hold the food industry, not individual
consumers who choose foods, responsible for the number of
products sold that are high in fat and lead to obesity.
- Almost half (48%) believe in taxing high fat foods while
thirty-nine percent (39%) believe in financial incentives
for those who choose healthy meals.
- The rising concern about food safety was described as
an extension of the public’s concern about environmental
- There is a growing interest in full disclosure about
food, meaning not just what is in it but also the processes
used in preparation. In this context, organic food is the
most watched trend in the food sector.
- Concern about genetically modified food is changing from
an environmental issue to a food safety issue.
- Younger, better educated and Canadians with higher incomes
are the drivers of these changes.
The presentation about the Alberta Agricultural Research
Institute and the latest consumer polling provided a great
context for my own talk on the need to get farming beyond
cheap food. Food is cheap enough. Going organic is one option
but not for everyone. Gordon Gatward told the CFFO convention
late in November about LEAF Marque, Linking Environment and
Farming in the U.K. that has added six percent (6%) to the
gross margin of participating farmers. The Christian Farmers
Federation’s proposal for a small charge on the retail
price of food to fund environmental payments deserves attention.
Some Canadian farmers are accessing higher priced European
markets by certifying with EUREP GAP. This is an internationally
accepted standard for exporting fresh produce to Europe based
on good agricultural practices such as Integrated Crop Management
and Integrated Pest Management.
Canada's report on net farm income for 2002
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