I had the pleasure of attending the Saskatoon Farm & Food Tour this year. The amazing two-day event was hosted by Farm & Food Care and Canadian Food Focus.

During the two days, I had the opportunity to tour several farms, learn from industry experts, and network with so many wonderful people all eager to better understand our local food system and agriculture in Canada.

Farming in Canada:

In Canada, there are a total of 189,874 farms, spanning over 62.2 million hectares, which accounts for approximately 6.2% of the country's land area. These farms are primarily concentrated in regions such as the Prairies, Quebec, and Southern Ontario. Over the past five decades, the number of farms have shrunk, but the average size of farms has nearly doubled, due to consolidation and technological advancements. (source: Agriculture Canada)

That might seem like a lot of farms, but as our population continues to grow, we need more farms and land to produce more food. We also need to significantly reduce our food waste and be more efficient in our food production.

Cows on the field, Canadian flag in front.
image from Real Dirt on Farming by Alycia Walker

Growing food sustainably:

Canadian agriculture is actively embracing sustainable practices to enhance food production while minimizing environmental impact. Through techniques like crop rotation, conservation tillage, and precision agriculture, farmers are prioritizing soil health and reducing resource consumption. The adoption of integrated pest management, cover crops, and agroforestry contributes to ecological balance and biodiversity. Diversification of crops and livestock, along with efficient water management and renewable energy integration, further promotes sustainability. Additionally, reduced chemical use, soil health management, community engagement, and participation in certification programs underscore the commitment to eco-friendly approaches. As Canadian farmers work to feed a growing population, their focus on sustainability ensures a resilient and environmentally responsible agricultural sector.

The Safety of Pesticides and Why:

Pesticides are rigorously tested and regulated federally and provincially to ensure their safety for human health and the environment. 99.9% of fresh fruit and vegetables in Canada test well below the pesticide residue limits set by Health Canada. These chemicals are necessary to protect crops from pests, diseases, and weeds, which can significantly reduce agricultural yields and threaten food security. Up to 40% of our crops grown would be lost without them. (source: CropLife Canada)

fertilizer spreader spraying corn field
image from Grain Farmers of Ontario

Plant Science:

Plant breeding and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) provide valuable tools for enhancing agricultural productivity and sustainability. Through plant breeding, desired traits can be developed, contributing to improved crop performance, adaptation to changing climates, and reduced chemical usage. GMOs offer the potential for pest and disease resistance, increased nutritional content, and enhanced stress tolerance, which can contribute to higher yields and improved food security. While these technologies offer notable benefits, their deployment requires responsible management, thorough risk assessments, and ongoing research to ensure both human and environmental safety. (source: CropLife Canada)

Here’s a great reel from Michelle Jaelin about the importance of gene editing, an innovation in plant science. Gene editing, also known as CRISPR technology, won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. How Plant Science Saves You Money on Food

Cattle and Dairy Farming:

Cattle farming in Canada is a significant agricultural sector known for its contribution to the country's economy and food supply. Spanning diverse regions, from the grasslands of the Prairie provinces to the lush pastures of eastern Canada, cattle farming involves the rearing of both beef and dairy cattle. Canadian beef production ranks among the world's largest, with a focus on high-quality, grain-fed beef. Dairy farming, primarily in provinces like Québec and Ontario, yields a substantial supply of milk and dairy products. Cattle farmers in Canada adhere to strict standards for animal welfare, food safety, and environmental sustainability, utilizing modern practices and technologies to optimize production while striving to minimize their ecological footprint.

People and calves in a barn.
image from Farm & Food Care

Grasslands in Canada are facing challenges due to factors such as urbanization, agricultural expansion, and habitat degradation. These ecosystems, vital for biodiversity and carbon sequestration, are under major threat. Cattle play a crucial role in conserving and managing these grasslands. Through rotational grazing and sustainable land management, cattle help maintain grassland health, prevent invasive species, and promote biodiversity. (source: Raising Canadian Beef)

Watch this short video to find out more: Guardians of the Grasslands

Chicken Farming:

In all of Canada, there are 2800 chicken farms, each typically housing about 50,000 chickens within a single barn. Stricter regulations ensure both proper animal care standards and prevent overcrowding. Interestingly, most farmers collaborate with nutritionists to optimize chick feed, a practice also common in the dairy sector. Guided by consumer preferences, chicks are raised to reach around 2.32kg, a process taking roughly 36 days. Notably, the chicken farmer we encountered doesn't employ hormones or steroids, attributing the chicks' healthy growth to efficient feed utilization. It's worth noting that hormone use in the poultry industry has been banned in Canada and the USA since 1969. A mere 7% of all chicken and related products in Canada are imported, significantly increasing the likelihood that the chicken you purchase at the grocery store was locally produced. (source: Health Stand Nutrition)

Canadian Canola Oil:

The name "canola" is derived from the combination of "Canada" and "ola," which stands for "oil low acid." 

Canadian canola oil is a popular cooking oil derived from the seeds of the canola plant, which is primarily grown in Canada. It is considered a healthy oil choice due to its low saturated fat content, high levels of monounsaturated fats for heart health, and a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Canola oil is rich in vitamin E and has a high smoke point, making it suitable for various cooking methods. 

Canola field.
image from Canadian Food Focus

Some concerns have been raised regarding canola oil's omega-6 content, as excessive omega-6 intake in relation to omega-3 may have potential health implications. However, the overall fat profile of canola is better than most cooking (ie. vegetable) oils. It's higher in omega 3s and heart healthy fats. (source: Amy Meyers MD)

Conclusion:

I know there is a lot of controversy about farming in regards to its health and safety impact, environmental impact, and ethical treatment of animals. However, I do believe that farmers truly care about what they produce. After all it’s a labour of love and they have more invested than we do. 

There is so much bad information out there and let’s be honest, fear-mongering sells and it’s what tends to go viral. So let’s take the time to understand the science and facts and let’s support our farmers. They are working hard everyday to provide healthy and nutritious food for our community.

Canadian Food Focus and Farm & Food Care are two great resources if you have any questions about Canadian agriculture. They also have information about events and farm tours where you can see how our food is produced and talk to the farmers who produce them. If you haven’t already, you should take the time to attend an event near you because it’s eye opening. There is also an Ask Us page where you have access to experts to answer all of your burning questions. 

a tour group standing in a canola field
image from Farm & Food Care

A big thank you to Dorothy from Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan for inviting me. I would also like to thank Clint and Penny and their team for organizing such a wonderful event and for being such gracious hosts!

Lily

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