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Fighting the syndrome

There’s an illness stalking the ranks of agricultural producers in this country.


March 31, 2008
By Marg Land


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There’s an illness stalking the
ranks of agricultural producers in this country. No, it’s not caused by
spraying or close contact to chemicals and exhaust fumes. It’s more
insidious than that, creeping into the kitchens, coffee shops and minds
of growers.

There’s an illness stalking the ranks of agricultural producers in this country. No, it’s not caused by spraying or close contact to chemicals and exhaust fumes. It’s more insidious than that, creeping into the kitchens, coffee shops and minds of growers.

As an example: During the January 2006 annual conference of the Ontario processing vegetable industry, rather than celebrating the growing popularity of healthy eating within society, including the consumption of more fruits and vegetables, processors and growers seemed to be more concerned about how their products ranked in consumers’ minds compared to fresh produce.

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“There seems to be this idea that fresh produce is better for you and processed is just forgotten about,” stated one grower from the audience, adding that most Foodland Ontario advertising is aimed at promoting fresh fruits and vegetables in the province.

“In some cases, our products are more nutritious than fresh,” claimed another grower. “Our’s are processed at peak ripeness while fresh produce might spend days on a truck.”

While some growers may consider these to be legitimate concerns and compelling arguments, they also illustrate an ever-growing trend in agriculture – the “us against them” syndrome.

It started out small – livestock farmers versus crop farmers, cash crop farmers versus horticulture producers, grains and oilseeds versus corn. But now it’s reached the point that farmers who are growing and producing the same crops, but for a different market (fresh versus processed), are falling under its influence.

It’s easy to see why the syndrome is gaining strength. Most farmers are in the grip of the current crisis that is affecting Canadian agriculture, including horticulture, where product prices have remained stagnant for years while input costs have steadily increased, resulting in tighter margins and a need for greater efficiencies. It’s hard to stay positive and cross-commodity friendly in a country where the average citizen spends about seven per cent of their income on food, leaving agriculture producers and growers fighting over their cut of that meager percentage.

Yet, one would think that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables would be a good thing for growers who are involved in producing crops which help supply that market. But growers’ reactions and comments show it’s just not good enough. It would appear the “pie” is too small to benefit all, leading to the argument that consumers should be eating only processed produce or, in the case of the “other side,” only fresh produce.

There is a cure for the “us against them” syndrome – cooperation.

Rather then fighting and griping among themselves, Canada’s horticulture producers need to lobby hard and loud for a “Buy Canadian” and “Buy Ontario” or “Buy B.C.” or “Buy whatever province” philosophy from all levels of government. It should be domestic produce being served in school lunches or snack programs, it should be Canadian grown produce being served at federal institutions and provincially grown produce gracing plates at provincial facilities. If society is interested in having a strong and viable agricultural industry, it needs to be willing to support it in the field or barn, in the market and on the dinner plate. If that support is there, there should be no need for subsidies and industry “bail-outs.”

The “us against them” syndrome has to be stopped. What will be next? Wholesale versus retail?


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