By Keith Roulston
Editor Lisa B. Pot’s column last month on the future of farming as seen through the eyes of food “experts” who don’t believe in farmers, got me thinking about a lifetime of providing the latest updates to farmers.
Lisa was writing about the speakers who “enlightened” at the Arrell Food Summit’s “Future of Farming” and the Globe and Mail’s “Future of Farming Event” where the they accused farmers of unsustainable methods that contribute to climate change.
As I read the opinions of these speakers, I couldn’t help thinking of something the late Harry J. Boyle said many years ago when he spoke in Blyth at an anniversary of the Farm Forum movement.
A native of a farm near St. Augustine, a few miles away, Boyle started his career in radio at CKNX in Wingham, then joined CBC in Toronto where he was behind the Farm Forum weekly programs and eventually became chair of the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission, overseeing all telecommunications in Canada.
Having listened to speakers for a while at the Farm Forum conference, Boyle spoke up and remembered that during World War II, Canadian farmers listened to the experts and increased their production to feed the troops overseas and the British public. But once the war was over, the Canadian troops came home and Britain, unable to pay for imported food, cut off Canadian imports. Canadian farmers were left producing a surplus of food and prices dropped below the point of substantiality. Canadian society, of course, had moved on and few stuck up for the plight of farmers.
His comments rang true for me because my dad, who served in the army in Italy and Holland, came home from the war to buy a farm, but with money-losing farm prices, never had a chance to get his feet under us, financially.
I think there’s still a sense, among urbanites (including the experts who Lisa quotes), that farmers are uneducated and backward. Yet most farmers from my age to the youngest, are educated, having gone to university or agricultural college.
They have also, to varying degrees, listened to the teachers of agricultural knowledge. I remember working at harvest as a high school student with a young man, a couple of years older than me who was attending University of Guelph and was bemoaning that so many farmers were backward, growing mostly wheat, oats and barley and very little corn, which he had been taught was the crop of the future. He proved right as oats and barley nearly disappeared and corn and soybeans (unknown in Bruce County at the time) came to dominate the landscape.
If farmers are not growing the crops they should, or not in the proper way, it’s probably because they are following some advice they got from some farming “expert”, perhaps helped along by a farm reporter like me, who was spreading the most recent research on how to be a better farmer.
I have a granddaughter who was recently doing research about beef cattle for the University of Guelph. Among her supervisors was a man who grew up on a farm near me. Both of them, along with the sons and daughters of hundreds of other farm families, were busy helping farmers be more efficient in their own way, giving them advice on how to farm under current economic rules.
It was different advice from that provided by the sort of speakers who were making presentations at the conferences Lisa reported on. According to those speakers, farmers are behind the times. According to University of Guelph farmers are following their latest advice. So if farmers are wrong, so are the “experts” they’re listening to.◊