The “S” words in agriculture

Guest blog by Brent Royce, Ontario turkey farmer

The -S- Words- (1)Over the last few years, the buzz words around lots of agricultural meetings have really evolved around the 3 S’s. These words Social License, Social Responsibility and Sustainability have really evolved from that other S word; Social Media. We as a society have changed how we receive and digest information, but I really keep asking myself how does this change how and what I do as a farmer.

As a farmer I base everything on science. I know we have some of the strongest rules in place before products can even get approved for use in Canada. Once something is approved (whether it is a new product for the barn or to use on my crops) I never jump in neck deep first.

I always try a small portion to see how it works on my farm. I want to see if the product benefits my crops, my livestock and my pocket book. I listed these in a specific order because if it won’t benefit what I am growing or if it could harm the environment around me, it doesn’t matter if it is more cost effective. I won’t use it. Oops, I guess I added another S word Science.

So how do we inform and educate people properly on what we do because the old days of “trust me I’m a farmer” are getting less effective. We know we are still trusted by a great number of Canadians but as they become increasingly interested in where their food comes from, our practices are being questioned more and more.

Our non-farming Canadian population is ever growing (97 percent and counting). They don’t live on farms, they don’t know farmers and they often don’t understand what we are doing.

Scientifically safe is moving into second place as emotion on issues take over.

I’m guilty as charged also on that. When my wife makes me try something new at home, it may be proven safe but I’m still not sure if I will like it or not. As an example, we’ve just started a new “healthy eating” routine. Believe me, initially I turned my nose up and said “this is crazy, I’m going to be starving”, etc.

It turns out it isn’t all that bad! We still eat what we did before, just different amounts of each. Do I still question parts of it? YES. I don’t completely understand the balancing and reasoning behind it (after all I didn’t grow up eating this way). But I I know and trust the people that are promoting it and who have done the research and feel comfortable knowing this “healthy eating” is actually good for me.

With that I go back to the farm analogy. I ask myself how do I (or we as farmers) reassure the public that yes what we are doing is safe – it’s been proven so. Hmm, sounds like part of a social license to me.

As a farmer I try to always do the right thing on the farm. You may not always read on social media about some of my farming experiments. Sometimes I need to work out new ways of doing things in my barn or growing my crops without a public farmer debate. Because as we all know, sometimes farmers can be each other’s toughest judges – and until I’ve figured it out for myself, I’m not willing to share. But I’m always willing to share my passion for food, farming and experience.

We as farmers need to change how we approach issues, both among ourselves and with the general non-farming public.

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