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Sustainability has always been a priority for Canadian farmers, says Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel. She and her husband David Nagel grow canola, chickpeas, lentils, wheat and barley on land that has been in their family for more than 100 years in Mossbank, Saskatchewan.

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While the challenges faced by generations of farmers have changed over time – one tenet remains constant: their dedication to keeping the land and soil healthy, today and in the future. “Regardless of the size of our farms, sustainability is always a top priority and affects every decision we make,” says farmer and policy advocate Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, who believes this perspective needs to be part of the public debate.

“Public trust is one of the most important issues facing Canadian farmers today,” says Ms. Jolly-Nagel, who grows canola, chickpeas, lentils, wheat and barley with her husband David Nagel on land that has been in their family for more than 100 years in Mossbank, Saskatchewan. “Growing up on a fourth-generation family farm, I know that decisions are made with health and sustainability in mind. But I also understand the desire of consumers to learn more so they can make informed food choices.”

Family farms at the table for future-of-farming discussions

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At a time when Canadians pay more attention to where their food comes from, Ms. Jolly-Nagel has noticed some entrenched misconceptions, including the notion that the family farm is under siege. “There is a perception that big corporations are taking over the family farm and forcing their methods on farmers,” she says. “This is a myth. The majority of farms in Canada – 97 per cent – are still family owned and operated.”

What’s more, farmers are working closely with companies across the entire value chain, such as technology and crop solutions providers and research organizations. “There is a degree of mutual respect,” says Ms. Jolly-Nagel. “Farmers have a seat at the table when the future of farming – including product and technology innovation – is discussed.”

The pressures go on, yet the 1 to 2 per cent of the population responsible for feeding us, our farmers, continue to get the job done. How? By continuing to innovate, adapt and think well into the future.

— Al Driver, Country Division Head, Bayer Crop Science Canada

Al Driver, country division head, Bayer Crop Science Canada, believes partnerships with farmers can advance the “industry’s continuous evolution to tackle traditional threats like weather conditions, pests and crop disease, and confront new challenges, such as a changing climate and consumer demands” he says. “In recent decades, modern agriculture has enabled farmers to conserve water, protect soil and grow more food on less land.”

Tackling food production challenges with technology

Those in Canadian agriculture have to navigate challenges like severe weather, rising costs, fair compensation, trade disputes, transportation and distribution, consumer demands, and continued public and government scrutiny, says Mr. Driver. “The pressures go on, yet the 1 to 2 per cent of the population responsible for feeding us, our farmers, continue to get the job done. How? By continuing to innovate, adapt and think well into the future.”

Farmers have always embraced progress and sought opportunities to improve their operations, for example, with modern practices, technology, equipment and inputs. Consider this: in 1950, the average farmer fed just 27 people – compared to around 150 today, says Mr. Driver. “Using innovative new digital monitoring tools, today’s farmers plan and monitor their crops, respond more quickly to threats of disease, and are more targeted when having to use crop protection products. We are experiencing a digital revolution in food production, and the future looks bright.”

Keeping pace with trends and innovation

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Marty Seymour, director, Industry & Stakeholder Relations at Farm Credit Canada, believes “the pace of change has never been this fast and will never be this slow again.”

For Mr. Seymour, the next frontier of disruption in modern agriculture is anchored in a shift in consumer preferences. “There are a couple fundamental truths the agricultural community must embrace,” he says. “First, consumers will always want choice; and second, health is one of the key drivers in many food choices people make.”

Ultimately, agricultural innovation benefits consumers, says Mr. Seymour. “In the past year, two-thirds of Canadian farmers have adopted new technologies,” he explains. “Investments made every year within our industry ensure Canadians have some of the best food in the world, where they want it, when they want it. But keeping pace with the increasing list of demands is not cheap, and both farmers and companies must be profitable to be sustainable.”

As an agricultural partner, Bayer envisions a future of agriculture that benefits both farmers and consumers, states Mr. Driver. “Canadians are paying more attention to where their food comes from. They want to know that their food is safe and produced adhering to ethical and environmentally responsible principles. They also want choice year-round, and it must be affordable. I can say with pride that Canada’s agriculture system, starting with our farmers, delivers on all of these demands.”

There is a perception that big corporations are taking over the family farm and forcing their methods on farmers. This is a myth.

— Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, Saskatchewan farm owner

While farmers monitor consumer trends and may consider crop diversification or other ways of adapting their operations, they always have to weigh agronomic benefits and long-term impacts, says Ms. Jolly-Nagel. “We wouldn’t be good stewards of the land if we jumped on every trend.”

In addition, she would like Canadians to know that “there is no need to fear any food that is locally grown or imported. We have one of the highest regulatory standards in the world,” she says. “And all of us in the farming community work hard to provide safe and healthy foods for Canadians and around the globe.”

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Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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