Business & Policy
Editorial: Changing the focus
September 14, 2022
By Stefanie Croley
A few years ago in our October issue, I used this column to share details about Farmer 4.0, a report released in 2019 by RBC that argued the Canadian ag industry wasn’t, at the time, prepared to deal with the projected shortage of 123,000 agricultural workers by 2030. With the anticipated growth of the global population to 9.7 billion people by 2050, and more than 100,000 farmers expected to retire within the next decade, the report recommended a national skills strategy to boost the skillset of different members of the industry, and a push to encourage more young people to consider a career in the ag sector to keep up with rising global food demands. Per the report, the farmer of the future should be highly innovative, with a focus on technology and a data-driven operation to keep the industry productive and profitable.
When I first commented on this report in 2019, I recognized that many of the findings weren’t surprising, but that the industry was on the right track, with continued growth and advancements, and more people enrolling in post-secondary ag studies than ever before. However, like most people, I wish my crystal ball had given me a glimpse of how the Covid-19 pandemic would change things, just months after the report was released.
I stand by my original statement: Canadian farmers, and the greater ag sector, are some of the most progressive innovators in the country. But the rippling effects of the pandemic – from supply-chain uncertainty to rising costs – have meant that priorities have slightly shifted: rather than looking at future possibilities, the last few years have forced the industry to focus on what’s happening now, and use what’s available to keep farms profitable and sustainable.
The concept of turning inward has become a small silver lining to the pandemic. It’s the idea that resources and answers can come from what already exists – highlighting what we’re doing right, re-targeting efforts to where they make the most sense and eliminating the background noise. That’s not to say there’s no place for new methods and technology – I’m a huge proponent for trying new things. But when options are limited, getting creative with what you have is a good solution.
The plant breeding industry has modelled this strategy since the first hybrid corn variety became commercially available in the early 1900s. After more than a century of plant breeding, the industry continues to tweak what they’ve already accomplished, and adjust tried-and-true methods to make even greater advancements. In our annual Traits and Stewardship Guide, you’ll see the new corn, soybean and canola seed technologies that have entered the pipeline after years of trials and development. And in the pages of this issue, we’re giving you a glimpse at what you can expect in the coming years. If the research projects highlighted in this issue are any indication, the future is bright for Farmer 4.0.