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EDITORIAL: The potential just keeps on growing


Canada’s social makeup has gone a long way from a time when the majority of people lived and worked on farms.

That of course isn’t likely to turn around, but it’s crucial to continue looking at the potential for agriculture.

Statistics Canada has just released its 2016 Census of Agriculture and some products appear that fall outside the commodities such as wheat and cattle that the ordinary Canadian might think about as farm staples the country was built on.

Among the big success stories cited by Ellen Bekkering, project manager for the census are soybeans, which saw a doubling of production in the past 15 years. Even more noteworthy is the increase in production of lentils – three times what it was 15 years ago.

That marks a bright spot for a couple of strong reasons. Think about the discussion in the past several years about the affordability of food, particularly in lower-income households. Beans and lentils are among those foods heralded by nutrition experts as particularly good choices for the grocery cart. They’re rich in protein and fibre, easy to prepare, versatile, and they are relatively inexpensive, particularly compared to other protein choices.

And lentils, it turns out, have adapted well for Canadian farm conditions. That might not have been an obvious choice for a crop going back a few decades, but that’s what success in farming has often had to rely on, seeking out new opportunities.

Overall, according to this census, the shift has seen more croplands, with greater varieties planted, and relatively stable profits. Gross farm receipts totalled $69.4 billion in 2015, while operating expenses reached $57.5 billion.

We also have to think about what potential this production has for trade – perhaps overseas, depending on what U.S. President Donald Trump has in his sights at any given moment. In addition, Canada will surely be called on to help ease food shortages in other parts of the world as climate change challenges food production elsewhere.

In Nova Scotia, where farming has long been a traditional resource, we’ve seen new varieties of crops introduced in recent years – for example, hops and fermentable grains for a burgeoning brewing and distilling industry. Those initiatives for homegrown ingredients are still pretty much in early stages, but are showing promise.

Entrepreneurs are also seeing success starting up smaller operations and concentrating on market gardening, particularly given the increasing interest among communities to buy local.

These moves mark a great alternative to seeing valuable farmland fall out of production, as has been the case in some areas of the province in recent decades.

This promising picture should go a long way to encouraging the public, governments, farmers and investors about the possibilities, especially when some ingenuity and willingness to experiment are brought into the mix.

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