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Introduction: The simple solutions are best, and with good reason

Having been raised in a medically oriented family (mother, father and four children, and I am the only one not involved in health care), I have often heard the adage, “When you hear hoofbeats, it’s not always zebras.”


April 30, 2010
By Ralph Pearce


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Having been raised in a medically oriented family (mother, father and four children, and I am the only one not involved in health care), I have often heard the adage, “When you hear hoofbeats, it’s not always zebras.”

A statement well known among medical students, it advises that the obvious answer is often the only one worth considering. And I have found that now, more than ever, that adage also applies to agriculture.

At the end of February, I spent two days in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, basking in Maritimes hospitality and attending the much-anticipated International Potato Technology Expo. Held every two years, the trade show is an opportunity to learn more about the potato industry in Canada and renew acquaintances with all of those involved in the sector.

Yet amid the handshakes and smiles, there were some grumblings among those in the industry: about restrictive contracts with food processors, about disease concerns in the fields and about dealing with traceability, which I was told will be an increasing challenge for growers.

Sounds like the agri-food industry any day of the year.

And we wonder why?
Two news stories then greeted me within the week following my “Island getaway.” The first was a news report that McCain will cut the number of its contracts with potato growers by as much as 30 percent in 2010, a reflection of a growing health-conscious movement that has seen French fry sales drop off. Those affected by the cuts will have to find new buyers across the rest of Canada or the US, neither of which is a simple process.

The second piece that caught my attention was an invitation to a “leaders summit” on Food for a Healthy and Prosperous Future. The summit pledges to bring together 60 leaders from agriculture, health care, research and non-government organizations, to work co-operatively to improve the lifestyles of Canadians. A similar sentiment has come from numerous calls for food safety and security measures to protect consumers.

Here is my overly simplistic, common sense approach: support Canadian agriculture!

Stop organizing summits and wake up to the issues facing farmers and their organizations, right now. Our producers do a damn fine job, and they need investment in research, market development and processing, the kind we have seen with canola and flax this past winter. Forget the gatherings that do little but provide self-congratulatory opportunities for so-called “leaders” to hear themselves talk.

The momentum has started pushing in the right direction and we need to hear the hoofbeats of horses, not zebras.

So little time, still so much to do
With April’s arrival, we can see the true “busy season” finally coming into view. That is why Top Crop Manager makes the most of the month, starting with the Early-April edition, including our Machinery Manager feature dedicated to Irrigation Systems. And there are articles dedicated to those early- and mid-season issues, from weed management to plant breeding to fertility and nutrients.

If it is important to you, it is definitely important to us.


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