By Clinton Monchuk
There seems to be a lot of discussion on what is and what is not sustainable in Canadian food production. A quick search of this topic yields much discussion and not necessarily a finite definition of what sustainable food production is. Some articles don’t even use Canadian statistics, but take a jab at livestock production or modern grain farming practices here at home. Many of these articles are ill-advised personal views of what people think farmers and ranchers are doing, as opposed to the reality of what’s typically taking place on a modern farm today.
In order to place some context around the evolution of food production, we must also recognize how science and technology have advanced in this country since Confederation. It’s amazing to see how, as a society, we’ve never had it better. Our average life expectancy has risen and exceeds our neighbours’ south of the border by a few years. Canadian mortality rates from major diseases like cancer have dropped as new science has allowed for earlier detection and better care. Communication, especially during Covid-19, has advanced to the point where we can have family get-togethers from across the globe with minimal to no glitches. It would be amazing to have these conversations of science and technology with our grandparents or great-grandparents, whose primary goal was to ensure food was on the table and it was safe to consume.
With these miraculous advancements, we as a society, didn’t notice what was taking place on the food side of the equation. When I speak to consumers, I often hear a romanticized view of the “good old days” of farming. I’m here to tell you: they weren’t that good. I remember carrying feed by hand to animals when I was in grade school and watching my father clean our dairy barn with a shovel and fork, loading manure onto a wagon pulled by horses. Other than trying to get some exercise, why would I want to go back to that way of life when we could have automated cleaning systems that save my back and keep the barns cleaner? A worker in an auto manufacturing plant wouldn’t want to do away with their automated systems and neither do farmers.
This then brings up the discussion on sustainability in modern food production. The fact is, farmers and ranchers have advanced in a similar manner to health care and communications advancements. We’ve adopted new practices that allow us to produce food specific to consumer demands in an environmentally friendly manner. The problem is, for the most part, we haven’t necessarily communicated these changes to Canadians.
Our family has been farming in Saskatchewan since 1906. Through the years, we’ve adopted new science and technologies, always with the goal to ensure the next generation has the land, equipment and knowledge to do better than the generation before it. This is sustainability.
Each year, our family farm grows food that consumers are demanding with the intention of making a profit, and we do so in a manner that will allow us to do it year after year after year. Science has brought us innovations in new crops, like GMO canola that can still produce in extreme weather conditions, global positioning systems that allow our machines to steer with precision accuracy that produce less waste, herbicides that control weeds without hurting our crops or soil and new planting practices that ensure organic matter is building instead of blowing away like it did in the 1930s. The change to farmers planting their crops using minimal or zero tillage methods has single-handedly become one of the biggest environmental benefits to food production, yet environmentalists and governments don’t seem to talk about it.
A study done through the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute showed that these sustainable farming practices result in close to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through Saskatchewan. Think about that: farmers’ use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and diesel engines is close to net neutral because of the work we’re doing to ensure the soil is a carbon sink. And, we’re doing this while producing an essential element for human survival: food.
Farming and ranching have adopted sustainable practices and we are responsible environmental stewards of the land. Are things perfect? No, but they are better than ever before and farmers are committed to continually improving how we do things, for both our future and yours. Our family’s goal is to leave the land in better shape than when we took it over. This isn’t just our goal, it’s the goal of 97% of all farms in Canada that are family owned. This is sustainability.