Your Reading List

Editor’s Note: What it means to farm in Canada

Tom Button

With coronavirus, we’re finally seeing that there actually is such a thing as a Canadian farmer, not just a Western or an Eastern farmer, or a crop or a livestock farm.

Is there something that makes all Canadian farmers more like each other than like American or Australian or French farmers?

It’s a question we’ve asked before, but with coronavirus we might at last be getting some hints of what the answer will look like, and why it matters.

So let’s ask it again. Is there anything uniquely Canadian about our farms?

The reasons for doubting it are deep and cultural, and throughout our history they have proved difficult and divisive.

We’ve been trained since birth, it feels, to see our differences, not our commonalities.

Western agriculture, we say, is an export agriculture. Its grain and oilseed industries are global, and its livestock sectors continental.

The East, we say, is the opposite. It’s all dairy and horticulture. It’s inward looking, more intent on replacing imports than on putting anything on a boat.

One is supply managed, we say. The other is free market. One is intensely rural, the other almost suburban.

Of course, the generalizations hide a lot of the diversity that is a hallmark of today’s agriculture. But they also get at something that is true. Regional differences are real.

I’ve often expected, though, that our national ag organizations would develop a “Uniquely Canadian” communications strategy. And if not a national ag organization, then a national ag business.

The opportunity seems there for the taking. Current ad campaigns seem only to throw in a “Canajun, eh?” sometimes and never get any deeper.

In such a regionalized agriculture, the brand people must ask, how could they get anywhere with a “sea to shining sea” theme?

Coronavirus shows the way. Or, more accurately, agriculture’s truly impressive response to coronavirus shows it, with virtually every sector across the country coming to the fore, saying here’s how we can make it work, let’s get on the job.

It takes the worst to bring out the best, they say, but I don’t believe it, at least not in this case. Farmers are only doing what they always do, i.e. putting their values into action.

It’s these values you’ll find at the core of agriculture, not in the individual commodities or in the details of regional geography. It’s in traditional values, like hard work, dedication, fairness and honesty.

But it’s also in new ways of embodying those values, i.e. smart thinking, smart decision-making, a professionalized skill at creating solutions. Read associate editor Lorraine Stevenson’s article “Summer Days” in our April 2020 issue, where she talks to farmers across the country. You’ll see what I mean.

Today’s Canadian farmers are a breed apart, both from the past and from other countries. It’s an amazing thing to see.

Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].

About the author


Tom Button

Tom Button is editor of Country Guide magazine.



Stories from our other publications