Brent Collins – Head of Canola Seeds – North America
Innovation and technology used in modern farming has come a long way, but the general public’s perception of how their food is grown has not. At any time, today’s farmer is a scientist, a meteorologist, a mechanic, a statistician, a marketer, and a steward of his or her land. But for many, the first thought that farming conjures isn’t necessarily digital innovation or biotechnology. The reality is that modern agriculture is overlooked as the innovative, forward-thinking, and constantly evolving industry it is.
Countries around the world are looking to position themselves for economic growth and prosperity, as the pandemic wanes. It cannot be understated that agriculture represents a tremendous opportunity for Canada. To fully unlock our potential as a nourisher of nations, we need to embrace science and innovation across all sectors — particularly agriculture. What’s stopping us? Modern farming practices are largely misunderstood by the general consumer. But if science and technology are generally viewed as a force for good in industries such as medicine, why are they viewed differently in agriculture?
The discussions about vaccines is ubiquitous, and the recent federal budget highlighted biotechnology as it relates to them. Biotechnology also has deep value in agriculture, which was unfortunately overlooked in that context. This was a missed opportunity for several reasons. First, the agricultural industry helps drive Canada’s economic and social priorities — from market access and development, to travel gateways and humanitarian assistance. Second, the sector provides opportunity for trade, innovation, and advancement; Canada’s development of canola shows us how such innovations can be nurtured here and exported globally. Last — but perhaps most important — Canada has the potential to become a world leader in agriculture by 2025. Ambitious? Maybe. But with supports in place, it is achievable.
The need to educate and inform the public is not a new challenge recognized by our industry, and while collective efforts to date have certainly helped — such as Nature Nurtured an initiative supported by organizations throughout the value chain to connect Canadians with digestible information on gene editing — we still have a long way to go. The belief that the tools used to produce food, such as crop technology and gene editing, are bad for people’s health and the environment, is pervasive. Contrary to this belief, innovation in seed traits and plant breeding have produced better yields and increased resistance to things like extreme weather. This has helped to protect the food supply from climate change, disease, and pests, which would otherwise hamper growers and threaten Canadians’ access to safe, abundant food.
BASF Canada Agricultural Solutions is committed to embedding innovation in all aspects of our Canadian business. Through our commitment to innovation, we hope to create a positive impact on the agricultural food system in Canada, while helping to shape a sustainable future for farming. As a global firm, we harness the power of work done around the world to develop solutions for Canadian farmers.
Worldwide, we invest $4 million per day in research and development, enabling us to continually look for new ways to support farmers here at home. These investments have led to solutions rooted in science and sustainability that benefit modern agriculture, including canola innovations that eliminate potentially damaging tillage practices, reduce harvest waste, and improve overall soil health, just to name a few.
Beyond canola, we’re investing more than $12 million over 25 years in the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre to support ongoing research and development of new Clearfield® lentil varieties, and of hybrid wheat, Canada’s largest crop, with much of the research taking place in Pike Lake, Sask. Hybrid wheat promises to be a game-changer for this staple crop — one that will go a long way to helping feed the expected 10 billion people who will inhabit Earth by 2050.
We have a responsibility to ensure a positive impact on the agricultural food system by putting the tools in place that will help shape a sustainable future for farming. New technologies and innovations can help us achieve the balance between yields and longevity, so the time is now to secure the future of agriculture for the good of Canadians — and the world.
Health Canada is currently in the consultation phase of new guidance for the regulation of novel foods. This will have a significant impact on which new innovations in plant breeding, such as gene-edited crops, come to market in Canada. These innovations are critical to helping our farmers grow food sustainably for Canadians and the world, as well as compete on the global stage.
It’s encouraging to see the industry come together in ways that amplify voices and advocate for policies that will help agriculture realize its full potential. One example is Advancing Agriculture, a collective effort supported by representatives of Canada’s agricultural community to advocate for the sector.
This is Canada’s opportunity to lead, but it will require thinking about agriculture in a new way. We cannot let it be a second thought. It is a priority as a foundational element of the modern economy: producing food for the global population, creating value-added products, and strengthening our economic pillar. Supporting the growth and success of the agriculture industry stands to benefit all Canadians.
(NOTE: this article originally appeared in iPolitics on May 18, 2021)