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Toban Dyck: Explaining agriculture, not whining

There are lots of things about the ag sector that we wish the public knew more about

“It’s just another whining farmer wanting government to bail him out.” This was one of the responses to an article I wrote for the Financial Post. It came after a former ‘Dragon’s Den’ dragon promoted it to his audience. I’ll be honest. I got a little bit nervous about the attention. I was tagged in his post, so all the responses to it were notifications on my phone.

The accusation wasn’t especially impactful, as it was obvious the person only read the headline, but it did make me think. There are a lot of things I would rather be than a whiner, and I’d be willing to bet a lot of us feel the same way.

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From where I stand on the curve right now, it seems as though one could spend a lifetime learning about farming and the global agricultural network of which it is a part and still not figure everything out. That is itself fascinating. I believe, perhaps wrongfully so, that everyone would at some level also find agriculture as endlessly interesting as I do if they were only given a glimpse into how it works.

I think if the average Amazon shopper could watch a massive container ship lumber into port knowing that his or her purchase was in one of those colourful rectangles, that person’s perspective of how important rail and transportation, in general, is to Canada. This is the nugget. This is what the farming community wanted everyone to understand when CN’s workers went on strike. It wasn’t just farmers affected. It was everyone.

Systemic disruption and bad policy affect everyone.

People don’t know what we know and we shouldn’t assume otherwise. This holds of any sector. You don’t know what the person next to you is thinking and the only way they are going to know what’s going on in your head is if you tell him or her.

I write on the theory that if modern agriculture’s fiercest critics suddenly, by some strange stroke of magic, found themselves running a farm their minds would change.

When trade is healthy, policies are good enough and prices are high, we operate in the shadows. When that all changes, we throw the light on and expect a public and government that once couldn’t see what we were doing to suddenly take an interest in the details and start rallying behind us.

I would like nothing more than for some of my city friends to really understand the nuances surrounding the glyphosate debate. It would be great to have an earnest chat with someone who doesn’t farm yet has a solid grasp of how the chemical is used, how the chemical has impacted agriculture, and a basic understanding of the unique regulatory environment that currently holds its fate.

When carbon tax was just a rumour, the ag sector wanted everyone to know how in a complex value chain it is a price taker and would ultimately be vulnerable to the inevitable increase in input costs.

When Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and China retaliated with trade embargos, followed by accusations of contaminated commodity shipments, farmers pressured government to fix a very large problem it had ostensibly created.

It is largely unfair for us to accuse people outside of our industry as being ignorant. I don’t know much of what it means to be a doctor or an assembly line worker at GM.

This is our challenge: to talk without whining; to apply smart and specific pressure without asking for things we shouldn’t; to understand and ultimately reconcile the fact that not everyone knows or understands what it is we get up to on our farms.

I sometimes wonder if critical theory or argumentation shouldn’t be a necessary part of the curriculum in university ag departments. The ag sector needs to be able to see the other side a little bit better and it needs to be able to self-assess in ways independent of profitability.

Whining isn’t becoming of anyone or any industry. The sector has a fine line to walk. I want everyone to understand how the ag sector functions. I want everyone to demand a strong agricultural vision of his or her political representatives, and I want every single person to be as enthralled with all of this as I am.

I’m perfectly okay with the odd person misinterpreting all of this as whining, especially if it means a dragon is paying attention.

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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