Editorial: A willingness to be better

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There’s value in the move by farm groups to include diversity and inclusion as parts of their driving principles.

There was significant online debate about Beef Farmers of Ontario’s new diversity and inclusion statement.

Beef Farmers of Ontario lists seven points in its commitment to diversity, but this paragraph in its statement on the subject excellently sums up the need.

“We recognize the beef sector is not always a diverse industry, particularly at the farmer and association level. Further along our supply chain, however, there is a great amount of diversity among the people dedicated to ensuring our product makes it to the tables of consumers. Likewise, our consumers are another integral and incredibly diverse group from all walks of life. We feel it is important to be a voice, build bridges, listen, learn, and support all members of our community.”

Reporting on the issue posted online prompted numerous comments on both sides of the issue. It also exposed a generational divide in the sector, with younger farmers driving the BFO initiative and other younger people in the industry supporting it.

As a follow up to the negative comments, including some by its members, Grain Farmers of Ontario revealed that it is putting diversity and inclusion into its new strategic plan.

Other organizations also have diversity and inclusion statements.

It’s about time for these statements and the sector will be stronger for them, as long as they go beyond dressing up websites and strategic plans with hopeful messaging to action.

The integration of more diversity and inclusion into agriculture isn’t just some progressivist gobbledygook, and a distraction from focus on global competitiveness and helping farmers solve problems on their farms.

First it’s the right thing to do. Our consumers and those who work in food processing are some of the most diverse populations in the world and we need to reflect them, or at least make efforts to understand them. Women and people of colour have not had the opportunities that white men have had available. There’s no need to get defensive about that fact. It just is, and it’s time to be open-minded to the barriers that exist.

A significant study by the Globe and Mail recently shone a glaring light on the continuing power differences related to women and their numbers in positions of power.

Ashley Knapton, a young farmer and worker in agriculture said, “props to the people and organizations who are pushing forward, and to individuals who are willing to be better.”

Second, it’s imperative to respond to changing norms in global marketing. Being open about inclusiveness and diversity will help with global competitiveness, not hinder it.

I’ve long been a story teller and increasingly the ability to tell a complete story is a base upon which other marketing is built. In many markets if you don’t have your sustainability and inclusiveness story down, you don’t get to make the pricing argument.

Consumers are driving questions about inclusiveness and sustainability back through retailers and commodity buyers. Those questions are coming back to the farm, so it’s also a matter of managing risk.

Information flows around the world instantaneously. The story you tell day-to-day matters because your buyers anywhere on the planet will hear what you say publicly.

Ontario companies have been reluctant to discuss some evolving issues in agriculture with me, such as products applied to crops, as they’ve found that their buyers in China have read Ontario press coverage and raised questions.

That’s frustrating to me because I’m trying to get good information to farmers so they can make better decisions on their farms, plus other sectors of agriculture can learn from how another sector has dealt with and made decisions on an issue. But I get it. The world’s a small place.

Yes, global competitiveness and production efficiency always need to be priorities — see the example of Britain for a place where agriculture productivity has been hamstrung to a point where imports are rising.

However, Canada has rarely been a low-cost supplier to the world. We’re close enough to be in the game, but have done well in pork and beef telling our story to the world. Inclusiveness and diversity are just another part of that story, as long as the nice words can be backed up with proof.

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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