Maintaining Agriculture’s Social Contract

Lethbridge area farmer John Kolk at the SouthWest Ag Conference in Ridgetown, January 4, 2017. (Photo by Simon Crouch)

Farmers may think they have been granted a right to farm by public opinion and support, but a Lethbridge Alberta farmer and commenter says that shouldn’t be taken for granted, and must be renewed on a regular basis.

John Kolk told a group at the Southwest Ag Conference in Ridgetown that farmers are under scrutiny by anyone with a cell phone camera, and that rising trends of consumer and animal rights advocacy mean they can’t assume they have public support.

“Overall farmers are doing a good job but they need to be more transparent, they need to talk about the why, that they are doing what they are doing and how it connects with the customer and the consumer,” he says, adding those using social media often end up only talking to people who already agree with them.

“The echo chamber of Twitter, agricultural Twitter, is entertaining, it can take a bunch of your time, but it you are trying to shift the level of trust in production agriculture it is probably not being very effective.”

Kolk says there is no hiding because cell phones and people who are interested in showing farmers in an unflattering way are everywhere, so farmers have to be open.

“Be transparent about it, put it out in public, doing the right things on the environmental side, doing the right things on the health and health benefit side,” he says. “And lastly and the one I think we need to do a lot more work on, how well are we doing with our community, our staff? The ethical part of things.”

Kolk says farmers do a good job on those issues, but have to do a better job of talking about in ways that can be understood by their customers.

He says social licence and the right to farm and continually moving targets but in many ways come down to being good neighbours.