Modern agriculture is sustainable agriculture
How progress in farming has led to better food for Canadians
What do you think of when you think of farming? A big red barn? An old green tractor? The truth is that farming today is all about innovation – using the latest technology to grow more of the food we need, with as little impact on our environment.
Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, her husband David and their family have been farming the land near Mossbank, Saskatchewan, for more than a century. “It’s not Old MacDonald with a pitchfork anymore,” she laughs. Instead, farmers today rely more on technology, such as artificial intelligence, satellite imaging, drones, and a range of digital tools that help them get the more out of every acre they grow.
“Agriculture is one of the most scientifically advanced industries in the world,” Cherilyn says. “With fewer people choosing the farming profession today, being as efficient as possible is really important and farmers want to adopt the newest, latest technology.”
It is important not just for farmers – but for Canadians.
Canada’s agri-food industry today employs over 575,000 jobs while accounting for $50 billion of our nations GDP and 12% of exports. By 2050, agricultural demand globally will be 50% higher than it is today.
“Every decision we make throughout the day is around how we grow safe, healthy food for our own family, for other Canadians, and for people around the world,” Cherilyn says.
Like farmers, the Canadian government has set ambitious targets to grow more food to feed a growing global population. However, with the need to grow more food also comes the demand that we must do so with as little impact to our natural environment.
“Mother Nature keeps us up at night!”
Farming has never been an easy life. That remains true today. Canadian farmers must deal with traditional threats like weather conditions, pests and crop disease – while also confronting new challenges, such as an aging workforce and a changing climate.
“Mother Nature keeps me up at night!” Cherilyn says. “Lately, she has given us every curveball I can think of – from hail to strong winds, from drought to flooding. It’s the risk you take when you’re a farmer. It’s our new normal.”
In other words, there is no such thing as a typical growing season anymore. There are no surefire dates for planting or harvesting. There are smaller windows of opportunity for both. As a result, crucial decisions – decisions that can affect a family’s livelihood – need to be made quickly.
That’s not all. Farmers must also deal today with increased scrutiny as Canadians express a growing interest in how their food is grown. People are concerned about cost, sustainability and pesticide use. Cherilyn understands and welcomes the attention.
To me, modern agriculture is all about being sustainable. It’s about growing the safest, healthiest crops to feed Canadians – and the world.
Confusion about the reality of farm life is understandable, says Denise Hockaday Climate Business Lead for Canada, a Bayer subsidiary. “Years ago, most Canadians had a direct connection to a farm – a relative, a grandparent or a friend. Now, most of us are more removed.” Over the years, many of us have lost touch with where our food comes from.
“Farmers need to explain to Canadians what they are doing to protect the environment,” Cherilyn says. “The land is our most valuable asset. We take care of it. We have to consider every decision we make in terms of what it will do to the land and the environment.”
More tech than a teenager’s bedroom
Farmers don’t have to face today’s challenges alone. Companies like Bayer are focused on helping to drive the continuous evolution of the industry.
That means using innovative new digital tools to help farmers plan and monitor their crops, respond more quickly to threats of disease, and be more targeted when using pesticides.
Farmers need to have information at their fingertips at all times. These days, they need every advantage they can get.
A good example is Fieldview® a digital tool made available by Bayer. Fieldview® uses drones, satellites and other data sources to provide real-time information on the health and strength of a farmer’s crops.
Gone are the days when farmers only monitored their crops by walking their fields. Given the size of farms today, and with limited labour options, “a typical farmer cannot scout all of their fields fast enough to inform their decisions and a traditional field walk only covers 3% of the field,” Denise suggests.
However, with the information provided through Fieldview®, farmers can rely on data made available on a tablet or smart phone.
Fieldview® is just one of the latest technological advances in agriculture. In fact, today’s tractors, sprayers and combines have more gizmos than a teenager’s bedroom – iPads, video screens, Bluetooth connections and more. GPS apps enable farmers to make fewer passes across their fields, reducing fuel use and emissions, while increasing accuracy and precision.
That is not all. Today’s hybrid seed technology enables farmers to grow more using less land, water and crop protection tools, such as pesticides.
Hybrid seeds come in all sorts of varieties. They can help resist disease, improve a crop’s taste, cope with environmental challenges and increase yield. Perhaps most importantly, some seeds are resistant to pesticides, so farmers can manage weeds without harming their crops. This helps reduce their use, but also limits the need for other, less environmentally friendly weed management practices, such as tillage.
“Farmers truly care about the environment,” Cherilyn says. “We live where we work. We eat what we grow. We breathe the air. We drink the water.”
Most Canadian farms are still family run.
Cherilyn her husband, David and their family, farm 18,000 acres of chickpeas, lentils, durum wheat, barley and canola. Their two children, aged 13 and 10, pitch in with the chores.
And here’s something that might surprise you: The vast majority of Canadian farms – more than nine in 10 – are still family-owned and run. These families are eager to get the most out of their land while protecting and preserving it for the next generation.
Bayer values its partnership with Canadian farmers like Cherilyn and David. “Each farm is unique, each farmer is unique, and the needs they have are unique,” Denise says. Today’s digital solutions are flexible and adaptable enough to be helpful for all.
According to Denise, at least half of Canadian farmers today are using digital tools in one form or another. That number is increasing every year as farmers come to understand the benefits of making better decisions about planting and harvesting – and being able to monitor and manage the health of their crops during the growing season.
“Our population is growing, but we don’t have any more land or water to work with,” Denise says. “From Bayer’s perspective, it’s very important that we bring products to market that help solve the challenges of farmers and support greater sustainability to grow more and better food.”
Even with new technology, farming is never going to be an easy way of life. There will always be challenges and sacrifices.
Denise says she and her colleagues at Bayer are inspired by the dedication of farmers to keep working on new technological advances – and a better world of precision agriculture.
Ultimately, they want to use artificial intelligence to give farmers access to accurate, predictive information – so they can make decisions even before the challenges arise. Bayer scientists are also working to design microbes that will reduce the amount of fertilizer needed to grow crops – which, in turn, would cut down greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is the dawn of digital agriculture,” Denise says. “At Bayer, our vision is science for a better life. That means improving the lives not only of our customers, but the lives of people around the world.”
Did you know?
What are pesticides and what type of pesticides are there?
- Pesticides help farmers to safely deter or manage pests that can threaten the health or quality of their crop. Three main types of agricultural pesticides are:
- Herbicides control weeds so that crops can flourish without unwanted plants competing for vital nutrients, space, water and sunlight.
- Fungicides protect plants from disease-causing organisms that can spread quickly and destroy fields of crops.
- Insecticides control insects that could damage crops by eating them or infecting them with diseases.1
- Canada has one of the most stringent regulatory systems in the world for pesticides. On average, the plant science industry spends more than 11 years and $350M to research, develop and ensure the safety of a new pesticide before it can be registered for sale.2
What is conservation tilling?
- Desertification and land degradation could make half of today’s food-growing land unusable in less than 40 years.3
- Plant science helps farmers implement conservation tillage practices that protect soil.
- Conservation tillage practices use herbicide-tolerant crops to eliminate weeds with less crop inputs, rather than relying on the old practice of plowing the soil – known as tillage – which is harder on the soil.4
- Reducing tillage improves the health of soil while limiting the number of times farmers pass over fields with tractors, saving diesel fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by almost 30 million tonnes a year.5
- In fact, low tillage reduces fuel consumption by about 40 per cent while zero-till reduces it by 70 per cent.6
- Conservation tillage is now practiced on more than 12 million hectares in Canada and reduces the risk of soil erosion, improves soil quality and lowers greenhouse gas emissions.7
Why do we need plant science?
- The global population is expected to grow by more than 2 billion people over the next 30 years. As a result, food insecurity is on the rise. Farmers will need to produce 70% more food to meet these demands.8
- Plant science is about food accessibility. Canadians would pay 55% more for food without plant science innovation.9
- With plant science, farmers can grow more of the foods we love to eat: 42% more grains, like wheat and corn, 72% more fruit and 83% more vegetables and potatoes.10
- $8.3 billion additional value of crops Canadian farmers grow every year thanks to pesticides and biotechnology.11
The importance of Canadian agriculture
- The agriculture and agri-food industry contribute over $110 billion annually to Canada's gross domestic product (GDP).12
- Canada is the 5th largest agricultural exporter in the world, and the agriculture and agri-food industry employs 2.3 million Canadians (that's 1 in 8 jobs).13
- Plant science technologies help contribute $9.83 billion a year to Canada’s economy by helping increase farmers’ productivity.14