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Toban Dyck: A deeper dive into policy

Agriculture is in need of synthesis

I am going back to university. By the time you read this, I will have a class or two under my belt. At 40 years of age, this could be interesting.

I have decided to take a deeper dive into policy. I have been working in the agricultural industry at the farm group level for more than four years. In that time, I’ve sat on enough committees, enough boards and participated in enough conference calls to conclude that the industry is in desperate need of a redraft.

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At my last count, there are well over 50 organizations claiming to represent a segment of the ag industry in Canada. And this estimate really only reflects grain production.

Livestock is in the scope of some of the groups I have listed, but I don’t yet know enough about how those organizations operate to offer insight into how they may work together more efficiently. For that matter, I am not entirely sure I have insight into how the grain groups can all work together more efficiently, but I do know there is a need.

It was either fortunate or unfortunate that I studied philosophy and politics in university. I draw on it from time to time, and when I do I can’t help but wonder if the references I make are correct and properly contextualized. Some from my peer group went on to PhDs and now study and teach all over the world. They may reel at my claim to philosophic knowledge, but let them reel.

I believe agriculture in Canada and possibly elsewhere is at a tipping point. I believe that there are sizeable gaps between what farmers want from government and what the government wants from farmers. The current network of ag groups is systematically unable to fill those gaps. It’s a problem.

When we, as farmers, ask Ottawa for better business risk management programming and Ottawa turns it back on the farmer-led groups to come up with something better than, say, tweaking the AgriStability, the knee-jerk reaction is frustration. The belief is that it’s Ottawa’s job to research and create programs for farmers. They have the staff. They have the money. And they know their own budgets.

Farm groups don’t have the capacity to reimagine in a comprehensive way what an entirely new business risk management program could/should look like.

I don’t even want to guess, but if you took the budgets of the more than 50 groups I have listed on a document somewhere on my computer, it wouldn’t be bold to say that the ag sector absolutely has the means to tackle a project of that scope and many, many others.

But, right now, it’s having trouble seeing the forest for the trees. And that is what is needed.

The groups that work closely together with each other need to find ways to streamline that process, paying special attention to reducing or eliminating overlap. The ag organizations that are geared towards the development of policy need to be empowered to do so with direction from expert staff and not necessarily board or member consensus.

I brought up philosophy earlier because there is a theory, often attributed to nineteenth century German philosopher G.W.F Hegel, that change occurs through a thesis-antithesis-synthesis process. It’s less profound than it seems. For example, Tim has an idea. Tim then has an opposing idea. He reconciles them. This process will repeat throughout Tim’s life. Hegel and others believe this is a framework that applies to more than the individual, i.e., nations, relationships, history. I agree.

I think agriculture is in need of synthesis. There are very few, if any, consultancies or policy groups set up to spend time and develop policy with the good of the entire ag sector in mind. What if, instead of believing that the small things that affect our farms should consume us, we look ahead, farther down the road and treat our individual challenges as small pieces of a larger picture? This simple shift in thinking has tremendous consequences.

The subtext of my return to university is not that I plan to solve all that is wrong with the scaffolding supporting ag in Canada, but I do believe I have something to offer. And when I look at the scattered nature of all the farm groups representing me and my interests, I am confident that synthesis is possible. I just don’t know what it is yet.

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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