One of the reasons why agriculture has mainly adapted so quickly to COVID-19 is that farmers are used to dealing with black swans. But it isn’t the only reason.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to underestimate the real pain that some sectors have faced. Whether that’s the logistical nightmare of beef processing or the ongoing issues of offshore labour, or any of a score of others, the challenges have been the biggest we’ve seen in a generation at least.
Still, if agriculture has worked so effectively to minimize the immediate impact of COVID-19, it’s at least partly because different sectors have had a number of tools close at hand that they’ve been able to bring into play. Or they’ve been able to fast-track ideas that were already in development.
Again, I don’t want to say that I think it’s been simple. In my own area, Glacier FarmMedia persuaded itself that it could transition Ag In Motion in Western Canada and Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in the East into electronic shows, and that it could do that largely by force of will. I’ve been impressed.
It’s also true that on a lot of farms, it really hasn’t seemed as if extensive adaptation was necessary. Yes, worker health measures had to be devised, implemented and monitored, and yes, more time had to be spent following commodity markets and networking with buyers and others, but after the initial uncertainties and concerns about COVID-19, it ended up seeming quite achievable.
We don’t know yet how the pandemic will ultimately play out, or how global markets will react or when or how international politics will intrude.
What we can be certain of, however, is that we are getting a better look at potential opportunities than most of us have had in our careers, and we are getting an opportunity to play a role in a truly historic agricultural moment.
I say this with some hesitation.
Every farmer knows that diversification has risks. A program of steady enterprise growth is much more manageable.
I also have some hesitation because Canadian agriculture has been so much better at providing good management rather than inspirational leadership in the last 40 years. What domestic organizations do you know that can excite and rally large blocks of farmers? Some, yes, but not many. And how does our organizational leadership compare to Australia’s, or to Europe’s.
COVID-19 may go away, but the weaknesses that it has exposed will be as big a threat as they are now.
The opportunities will be as big too.
We planned the stories in this issue with a deliberate focus on keeping the number of sources to a minimum. What’s important is the kind of thinking that’s available, not the biggest number of voices or the biggest range of ideas.
After this, it will be time for all us to commit to fresh thinking, not only for our own small corners, but for the industry overall. It’s history. This is no time to let ourselves down.
Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].