By Will Verboven Ahead of the Heard
February 13th was the official Canada’s Agriculture Day, the entity promoting this event calls itself Agriculture-more than ever (AMTE) and makes this declaration about this special national day, “Canada’s Agriculture Day is a time to showcase all of the amazing things happening in our industry and create a closer connection with consumers about where their food comes from and the people who produce it.” Their website provided advice on how to celebrate this national day. The organization produces graphics, logos, tweets, etc. for use not only for this event but for promoting agriculture in general. AMTE is an industry supported organization whose goal is “…. improving perceptions, dispelling myths and creating positive dialogue about Canadian agriculture. We provide resources and a forum for agvocates to tell the real, positive story of Canadian agriculture.” A noble goal indeed and in a world of disinformation and fake news a rather difficult ambition to achieve. The biggest hurdle facing this advocacy group is the propensity of human nature to first believe the worst and the negative, rather than the positive and honest. I would also include that most elusive of virtues – common sense.
AMTE and related ag advocacy organizations such as Alberta -based Ag for Life are all good groups directed by respected directors and professional managers. They all engage in promoting the positive elements of ag production in Canada, albeit in respectful conventional ways. That approach is reflective of the honesty and decency of the agriculture industry – particularly its primary producers. But being nice, respectful and decent doesn’t always guarantee success in the PR war that is being waged on a daily basis almost everywhere against conventional agriculture and food production. Its not a new reality but its sure been aggravated with the spread of social media avenues. Those ag promotion groups and agvocates that are fighting the good fight in social media are to be commended for their efforts because nowadays that’s the real frontline in the PR battle. I would suggest that is where any promotion group should concentrate its resources and efforts. Which causes one to ponder past approaches to advocacy and promotion and why some continue to be used, eating up valuable resources and money.
That brings me back to Canada’s Agriculture Day a celebratory event that now seems dated – how long has such a day existed – 25 years maybe. Did you know that its just one of over 1,200 special national days? February 13th was also National Tortellini Day, World Radio Day, Pancake Day and International Condom Day just to name a few. The official status, if that can be assumed, of Canada’s Agriculture Day is even in doubt. Last year it was celebrated on a different date – February 16th. It’s not even listed on lists of national days – even the Government of Canada official list of national day observances doesn’t seem to list it. The big main event of this special day was celebrated in Ottawa where politicians and industry luminaries were brought in to preach the virtues of agriculture to the converted. Such events rarely incite much media attention but I am sure it thrilled the financial supporters of AMTE and made them feel good about their investment in the organization. Keeping supporters happy is a critical activity of any lobby organization.
Your humble columnist has been a long-time observer of the trials and tribulations of ag industry advocacy and promotion. One is heartened to see much more active participation from the food industry in general in such efforts. In the early days it depended almost entirely on producer groups to fight the war with their limited resources. It’s a lot better, but it always seems a battle of catching up to what anti-agriculture lobby groups are doing in their deadly schemes of disinformation. At that point it usually becomes a campaign of advocating the truth and the real story, but in my view that is usually too late. I suggest the time is long overdue for the ag industry to find ways and means to promote our industry in more unconventional ways. I would suggest researching where our opponents are going in their PR efforts – green lobby groups are in the forefront of influencing public opinion. Is the positive approach always the best way – is fearmongering to be avoided even if it would help the cause, in a positive way of course. Just an idea – but the industry needs to broaden its advocacy perspective or we will always be playing catch-up and becoming irrelevant.