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National Newswatch

Governments need to focus on a well-designed strategy.

Ottawa—Sustainable agriculture will only happen if farmers can see how it can be made to work with their operations over the long term and that will depend on the kind of regulatory environment governments set up, says Scott Ross, Executive Director of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Getting the right regulatory environment is key to making a sustainable agriculture program work, Ross told an Agri-Food Innovation Council webinar. “It can’t be a top down driven exercise. It has to be a continual exercise in engaging farmers. Farmers need to see market signals coming through for sustainable products.”

Angela Bedard-Haughn, Dean of the Saskatchewan College of Agriculture, said while governments are promoting the adoption of sustainable agriculture, they need to focus on a well-designed strategy that will work into the future. They also have to avoid conflicts between productivity and sustainability.

Sustainability needs to get ahead of climate change through the development of crop varieties that are more resistant to drought and flooding, she said. A lot more data analysis would help farmers make the best use of crop inputs. “We have to recognize this is not a one size fits all policy.” The industry has to work together to get the most effective solution to what the future might bring.

Agriculture should be regarded as an essential service. “Food comes first. We need to have the right data on why things work. Remember every decision has multiple impacts.” Land not suitable for growing crops should be used for grazing animals that will also be available for consuming crops that are of too low quality for human consumption. “Let producers respond to the market place.”

Steve Webb, CEO of the Global Institute for Food security of Saskatoon, said sustainable agriculture needs to be able to measure progress across all sectors. “That is important to informing a strategy.”

Canada has a comparative advantage in agriculture but to move forward, “we have to have better than our patchwork data. We need a common view on where we’re at and where we’re headed,” he said. “We also need buy in from our producers. That means no one size fits all policy.”

The policy has to allocate resources as efficiently as possible and work to translate the findings of research and development into what will work for farmers. “Data collection is essential. We have to leverage all the data that’s out there to address the gaps in our production system and get monitoring working so we can leverage the data and address any shortages to make our best management practices as effective as possible.”

Webb said it is important to find any gaps in our data. “We are a global player. We have to stop the top-down approach. We need a broad coalition approach to get better at capturing where we’re at and how to move forward. This will give us an opportunity to play to win.”

Ross said the vibrancy of rural communities is also important. “We need a strategy for rural Canada to play a part in this. We also have to be concerned with the mental health of farmers and recognize that they are trying to do the right thing. To advance on sustainable agriculture we need data to show what’s happening on our farms. We have to be cognizant of the economic results of our production system and focus on sustainability in our production practices.”

Webb said improved productivity would deliver more bang for the buck “We also need a more-organized regulatory environment. Our system needs to be transparent and predictable and ensure farmers have access to modern tools and technology.”

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