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Ag Day Canada: Sustainability, Affordability, Continuity

Agriculture In Canada Day 2024 took place last week, in Ottawa. Farmers from all across the country were there. In a nutshell, power players in government industry addressed the farmers of today – and tomorrow. And identified some big challenges…

Canada Ag Day - © 2024 - CFA-FCA

This year’s conference theme was, fittingly, The Future of Food. Reporter Ed White of Glacier Farm Media attended the event and came away with some strong impressions – about the challenges and the players. Therefore… Submitted for your approval…


It’s not just a buzz word heard mainly in consumer circles. It’s become a real issue for food producers and retailers.

The sustainability issue is affecting growers and retailers profoundly. There are two dimensions to the challenge: One is the PR and corporate citizenship angle. The other is the need to evolve business practices to meet the needs of a climate-changed future.

Kendra Donnelly, CFO of Rimrock Cattle Co. discussed the meaning of sustainability. The beef-producing giant runs about 75,000 head of cattle and tends about 4,000 cow-calf pairs every year. They’re a bona fide industry leader.

Rimrock is committed to making biodigesters work. The UN Climate Technology and Research Centre explains: “A biodigester system utilizes organic waste, particularly animal and human excreta, to produce fertilizer and biogas. A biodigester consists of an airtight, high-density polyethylene container within which excreta diluted in water flow continuously and are fermented by microorganisms present in the waste.” Biodigestion essentially decomposes animal waste without releases greenhouse gases. Or traps the methane usually released into the atmosphere for use as fuel.

Matt Koehler, Managing Director of McCain Foods, said his organization – the largest potato producer in Canada – is pledged to convert 100 percent of its acreage to regenerative systems by 2030.

McDonald’s Canada CEO Michelle Boudria said her company is committed to supporting sustainability efforts across its supplier population. She agreed with the other members on the panel that, ‘…it’s a real thing that will get bigger’.


Michael McCain of Maple Leaf Foods – one of the Weston companies overseen by head honcho Galen Weston – said he’s concerned about the ‘challenge’ of ‘getting consumers to pay for the food product and agriculture improvements they say they want to see’. He wants to see the producers do more to bring consumers around to the idea of paying higher prices.

You’ll recall, Maple Leaf top dog Weston recently found himself held personally accountable for some Loblaw’s decisions that outraged consumers. He’s also represented Loblaw’s at last year’s federal government hearings on food prices. And drew even more disdain for his criticism of the coming Grocers’ Code of conduct.

Weston didn’t attend Ag Day.


Farm Credit Canada President and CEO Justine Hendricks told the conference it’s essential to keep young farmers on the farm, heading into a time of upheaval and evolution in their industry.

Handricks said FCC would like to think farmers see the coming tsunami of change as, “an incredible opportunity, […] a generational opportunity. […] If we don’t act, we’re going to miss it.” That, in my humble estimation, is a huge understatement!

My take

I am pleased to see the Farm Credit Corporation working to keep our future farmers ‘on the track’. It’s their generation that will have to navigate the challenges and struggles of changing over to plant-based ag over the next 25 years or so. It’s going to be, persevere or perish. And, if they perish, we all perish.

On the other hand, I also have to comment on Michael McCain’s call for consumers to get used to paying higher prices for food. We already know how out-of-touch Weston has proven to be, about the growing millions of Canadians who can’t even afford basic foods. Let alone ‘new and improved’ ones.

But, as we’ve said before, the big-supermarket shoguns need to understand – and accept – that the vast masses of their customers already can’t afford to pay for a decently stocked pantry and fridge. Let alone pay more! But what do the billionaires who run Canada’s food retail sector know about the masses? The top 20 percent, by income, of Canadians spent only 5 percent of their after tax income on food over the past year. The current crisis has had no perceptible impact on them, personally, at all.

But what we’re getting, in spite of consumer outrage, is an attitude from the grocers that echoes the legendary comment by Marie Antoinette, when told the peasants were starving. It seems Weston and his fellow grocery leaders are saying: “If they can’t afford hamburger, let ’em eat steak!”

~ Maggie J.