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Toban Dyck: The world is watching us

Trade news brings the media to the farm to talk about agriculture and farming

The nation’s gaze is fixed on agriculture. And while it’s not for great reasons, there is opportunity here.

Mainstream news outlets are stumbling over themselves to cover issues such as the global ag trade and how Canada’s current spat with China is affecting farmers. They are trying their best with the resources they have to make sense of and then report on the challenges the farming community is facing.

Since the news broke that China stopped accepting Canadian canola, I have spoken as a panelist on ag coverage at the Canadian Association of Journalism conference (CAJ), been interviewed twice on national radio, asked to write about it, and in early May CBC’s “The National” spent the better part of the morning on my farm filming me in my tractor talking about trade and China.

It’s not just me. Many people in agriculture have been on national news lately. There’s an appetite among consumers to know just what it is farming is all about. This is a tremendous opportunity for us growers and industry people to paint an honest picture of what it means to farm in Canada.

Crop protection products are under scrutiny. Some of the agronomic tools we’ve relied on for a long time are facing extinction, and the groundswell of people and lobby groups rallying for this are butting up against a nation that is showing signs of empathy toward the agricultural community. News outlets not usually concerned with agricultural issues are taking an interest.

At the recent CAF conference in Winnipeg, I sat on a panel with Bayer’s Trish Jordan and Jill Verwey from Keystone Ag Producers in Manitoba. We took questions on how mainstream media could do better at covering agriculture. Many of Canada’s major outlets were there.

That the conference even allowed such a panel is worth noting and should be lauded. It’s news media extending an olive branch to the ag sector, trying to understand the complexities surrounding farming.

Bloomberg ag reporter Ashley Robinson moderated the panel. Her first question got to the point:

Ashley: “When reading or watching an ag story from a daily news source, what do you find is lacking at times? Or what are the good aspects?”

Me: “During a recent segment on glyphosate, a lawyer representing a bundle of anti-glyphosate lawsuits was interviewed. As was a cancer patient.

“The piece began with likening the chemical to big tobacco. And while it cited reports saying that it was safe, those quotes registered as whispers compared to what they had dug up on the other side.

“No farmer was interviewed.

“Perspective, balance and a general awareness of how the mechanisms of agriculture work is lacking. Also, coverage is lacking. There should be more.

“When national news outlets — the outlets that have the ear of a country that claims to care deeply about where their food comes from and how it’s grown — treat agricultural topics as newsworthy if and only if they meet a seemingly formidably standard, it sends a message to the farming community that calls into question how much people actually care.

“If we care about our food and the industry that grows as much as we claim. And if we care about the economy, agricultural news should be everyday news.”

Farmers, we should be encouraged by this. It’s the silver lining on an otherwise terrifying and unpredictable situation. I’ve been in newsrooms that don’t know a thing about agriculture. I’ve been in newsrooms that don’t care much about what goes on outside the city perimeter. I can honestly say I see that starting to change. It’ll take time and pressure, and more coverage means our muck and our skeletons will be out there for the world to see.

That’s okay. If it means a closer relationship between the consumer and the farmer, it’ll only benefit agricultural production in the long run.

Now, I’ve got to get the drill taken out of transport position before my dad gets to the farm. He’ll be here soon. We’re on Day 2 of seeding soybeans!

Happy planting, everyone!

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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