In the world of politics and agriculture, we often talk about how politicians can help us. We don’t often talk about how we as the public can better communicate with them in order to help our politicians deliver on the policy changes we want.
It was in that spirit that we were joined by two Canadian politicians on last week’s episode of Seed Speaks: federal Conservative MP James Bezan and Manitoba Progressive Conservative candidate Jeff Bereza.
Both are not only involved in politics but have also lived and breathed agriculture. Bezan has worked in livestock and lives on a farm. He has been elected seven times since 2004. Over the course of his parliamentary career, he has chaired the House of Commons Standing Committees for Agriculture and Agri-Food (2006-2008) and Environment (2008-2011). Since 2011 he has focussed on the national defence file and currently serves as the shadow minister for national defence.
Bereza is no stranger people in the seed industry. During his time at Ceres Global Seeds, he served as director of sales and marketing, successfully growing the business to become a leading independent soybean company across western Canada. Most recently he was national director of sales for NexusBioAg.
He retired from that position recently and is now running as the Progressive Conservative candidate in the Manitoba constituency of Portage la Prairie in the provincial election that will see voters head to the polls next month.
Together, Bezan and Bereza helped our audience understand some of the big challenges facing people in the agricultural space, and how learning more about the reality of the agricultural sector is key to effectively lobbying for change.
Challenges in Agriculture: Competitiveness and Rising Costs
Bezan, drawing from his experience in farming and livestock, emphasized the issue of global competitiveness in Canadian agriculture. He pointed out rising input costs, which make it increasingly expensive to produce food in Canada. This challenge affects various agricultural sectors, including livestock, grains, oilseeds and dairy.
Bezan noted that Canada faces a competitive disadvantage compared to major global competitors like the United States, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.
Another critical challenge highlighted by Bezan is market access. Many Canadian commodities depend on international markets, and ensuring access to these markets is crucial for the agricultural sector’s success. Additionally, he stressed the importance of educating the public about modern farming practices and dispelling misconceptions, such as labeling today’s family farms as “corporate farms.”
“Since my first election in 2004, I’ve noticed that many Canadians don’t have a clear picture of where their food comes from. There’s often confusion about today’s modern family farms, which are sometimes labeled as corporate farms. These are still family operations, albeit larger and more efficient,” Bezan said.
“We must continue to tell the story of Canadian agriculture. Some commodity groups have made strides in this regard, using social media and advertising to educate the public about the industry.”
Nevertheless, there’s much more work to be done, he said. “Canadians need to grasp how vital agriculture is to our economy, our way of life, and the quality and safety of the food on their tables. It’s a task that requires ongoing effort to ensure that agriculture’s importance is widely recognized and appreciated across the nation.”
The Seed Industry’s Concerns: Nitrogen Emissions and Sustainability
Bereza shed light on the challenges facing the seed sector. He echoed Bezan’s concerns about the reduction of nitrogen emissions by 30%, emphasizing that this could have significant consequences for Canadian growers. While reducing emissions is a laudable goal, it must be done in a way that does not compromise food production. Farmers are already efficient stewards of the land, carefully managing their resources to produce high-quality crops, Bereza noted.
Bereza also stressed the importance of collaboration between farmers, politicians, and the public. He emphasized that agricultural advocacy requires collective efforts to ensure that policymakers understand the complexities and nuances of the industry.
“Many policy recommendations we often hear being discussed could harm our farmers and the productivity of our land. If such measures are imposed without a full understanding of their consequences, we risk losing valuable agricultural output. It’s a delicate balance between environmental goals and ensuring food security for the world’s increasing population,” he said.
Communicating with Policymakers: Bridging the Gap
Both Bezan and Bereza stressed the need for effective communication between the agriculture sector and policymakers. They noted that policymakers often lack a deep understanding of agricultural practices and the challenges faced by farmers. Some key takeaways on how to bridge this communication gap are:
- Engage with Farm Organizations: Farmers should actively participate in farm organizations that regularly interact with political figures, Bezan said. These organizations can help convey the industry’s concerns and educate policymakers.
- Advocate for the Agriculture Story: It is crucial for those in the agriculture sector to communicate the importance of their work to urban populations, said Bereza. Initiatives like open agriculture days can help urban residents gain a better understanding of farming practices.
- Show Appreciation: Urban consumers should recognize the hard work of farmers and acknowledge the essential role they play in providing food security, Bezan said.
- Collaborative Efforts: According to Bereza, politicians should collaborate across party lines to advocate for agriculture’s interests, ensuring that policies are conducive to the industry’s growth and sustainability.
Watch the full episode of Seed Speaks at the link below!