Silence is not golden — farm groups need to speak up

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Public opinion is sometimes tough to gauge with many jumping on social media to air any slight inconvenience, which can then skew the perception of people, services, and even entire industries.

This is where comprehensive surveys, such as the one spearheaded by Grassroots Public Affairs, plays an important role to see how Canadians truly feel about the agriculture industry.

This is the fourth annual survey hosted by the organization and Peter Seemann, principal of Grassroots Public Affairs, and Bern Tobin caught up with him to talk about the hows and whys of the survey.

“The purpose of this survey was to take a high level look [at Canadian’s opinions]. And we’ve examined a variety of topics and issues over the years, a lot of it related to economic development opportunities. And then we went into things like the environment and trust on Canadian food. So it was really to try and take a pulse, if you will, on Canadians attitudes towards an industry.”

The results are in and many of the results are quite favourable, while others point to areas that need attention not only from industry leaders but politicians as well.

The survey shows 92 per cent of Canadians have confidence in food grown in Canada and and 74 per cent prefer to buy food grown or produced in Canada. Seemann says this is great to see domestic concern for where food comes from. He says often the focus can be on export perception – making sure Canadian grown food is valued in the eyes of our export partners – where this reminds us just how important it is that our own residents and domestic customers share the same sentiment.

Another topic of concern, or focus, is climate change and the perception Canadians have on the ag industry when it comes to sustainability. The survey results were fairly split, with 26 per cent of Canadians stating they believe current ag practices are less harmful for the environment, while 23 per cent believe they’re more harmful.

Although not overly favourable, Seemann says it does provide an opportunity to step outside the industry bubble and look at what could be done differently, or maybe where these percentages are coming from.

“We often can become focused on the critics and the groups that oppose what many will or some will call sort of big farming and lumping it as a negative approach,” says Seemann. “Our studies have shown repeatedly that the majority of Canadians when polled look at modern farming in a more positive way as what farming was done a long time ago, they do not view the contributions, overwhelmingly negative from Canadian farmers to the environment.”

Where Seemann says is the major area of, not necessarily concern, but more so importance, is the willingness for industry professionals, whether it be farmers, food processors or otherwise, to stand up and have a voice. To make politicians and decision-makers know what is needed in order for Canada’s ag industry to flourish – not only for export purposes, but also for our own domestic food security.

“Politicians will listen to Canadians when they make something known and they say that it’s important and they need action,” explains Seemann. “Farmers in the food processing industry have done a good job in ensuring Canadians food security largely is dealt with, it’ll be interesting to measure that in the next two years, if in fact, we’re going into some more challenging economic times, and inflation continues to be a big issue.”

Other results from the survey include Canadian’s opinion on animal rights groups, which was among the lowest percentage when it came to level of trust, coming it with just 10 per cent of Canadians having significant trust in that sector. For all the results from the survey, go to www.grassrootspa.ca.