Public Trust: Highlight of a Grain Sector Perspective

Through my AdvancingAg Leadership involvement I set out to develop and study a deeper understanding of how Public Trust impacts our Food Production Sector today. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn first-hand from my mentor Kim McConnell specifically on Public Trust within our Agriculture industry. My role within the industry has evolved through the years from being a primary beef producer to an agronomy consultant and now an industry brand manager within the grain input sector – the impact of Public Trust however as I see it has an equal degree of importance within each level of the food supply chain. I was invited to take part in the Virtual Rural Roots Canada sessional as a panelist on the Public Trust discussion.

Here is a snapshot of my discussion surrounding Public Trust within our Grain Sector:

Our grain industry has traditionally prided itself as being known to produce a food supply based on high quality raw goods, ethical stewardship practices and processes that emanate the integrity of our industry throughout the entire supply chain. Starting right from the Primary producer producing our raw grains and oilseeds, collaborating with specialty production consultants & agronomists, to the commodity organizations; grain handling facilities and processors while finally reaching the consumer market level. Our grain sector stands by the high level of pride and integrity in our products. The modern consumer interest however has grown to demand a deeper transparency and understanding of:

  • HOW their food is GROWN, PROCESSED and finally BROUGHT to Market
  • The consumer also expresses interest and demand for transparency including the impact our production practices have on environmental sustainability.
  • How is our grain sector meeting these demands from the consumer for increased transparency and input in production practices??

I find myself taking a walk back through memory lane thinking of my growth in Agriculture in order to better understand the change in consumer interest and demand. I was born and raised in the beef industry having grown up not only through the 4H program but also as an active member in numerous Youth Livestock Breed associations. These associations and the 4H Program focused on teaching their members key basic skills encompassing production techniques, communication and even marketing of our agriculture products. Although I grew up in a rural community, I still found my fellow students never truly understood what we did on the farm in order produce their food. Now 35 years later I find there is an even larger divide between our fields and pastures to our consumer plate. Never once while growing up did I feel like our industry was under such scrutiny as I do now as an adult making consumer decisions for my young family. The source and reasoning of the scrutiny can be argued however in reality as technology grows including access to social media and exposure of agricultural practices our consumers are increasing their ask for information and demanding more transparency of production practices and techniques. I witness firsthand as many of you do the growing desire for information from consumers on HOW their food is produced and WHY we as producers incorporate varying practices in our operations.

Through my career I have seen the need for all involved in our food production sector to CONNECT – BUILD INTEGRITY – GROW TRUST – and BE TRANSPARENT in order to close the gaps that exist as an industry through to consumers. We all need to come to the table in order to cohesively represent our industry to the consumer in order to rebuild and grow the trust within our products moving forward. Through mentorship from Kim McConnel I looked to the Canadian RoundTable for sustainable crops as an avenue in which our Grains sector addresses collaboration on sustainable agriculture issues and opportunities directly within the grains sector. Formed in 2013 the CRSC seeks to facilitate cross-commodity collaboration facing its members. Members being representative from every link along the value chain – Seed developers through to end consumers.

Through review of the Grains Roundtable Public Trust Working Group most recent updates priority issues were identified to include:

  1. Crop Protection Product usage
  2. Plant breeding technology
  3. Food Safety

My career and industry experience speak to all three of these priorities the working group has identified:

  • As an agronomist I have personally found daily when interacting with consumers a gap in how we communicate and connect with consumers on our production practices directly leading to their understanding of these practices and their impact on food safety.
  • For example – the misconception within the general public that utilizing GMO technology and pesticide practices drive an increase in pesticide usage on farm when in reality the adoption of integrated pest management practices including GMO technology has led to a decrease in pesticide applications & rates and it is an integrated approach encompassing multiple techniques to grow a productive sustainable profitable crop.

The working group within the Canadian Roundtable for sustainable crops have found initially in their study of Public Trust that:

  • Our understanding of the public needs to be an on-going diverse collection across the public through individuals, groups and communities.
  • Trust with the Public is not just a matter of changing their belief in our systems of production
  • It also involves what relationship they have within our industry across the entire value chain
  • Our industry sector has a need for systems and accountability that are trust – worthy building confidence back with the consumer public
  • The start to rebuilding this trust is going to also focus on what both the public and our industry values. If the values of our consumer differ greatly from the values implied by the grain/food production sector, then it will continue to be an uphill battle in rebuilding trust.

At the end of the day I myself continue to integrate the practice of growing relationships within my grain sector career – GROW the relationship with our consumers – allowing our industry to continue to GROW a sustainable profitable food supply.