BY ELLEN COTTEE • PHOTO BY ROB MCMORRIS PHOTOGRAPHY: CAYC MEMBER B. PRATYUSHA CHENNUPATI
Given the rapid development of markets, emerging technologies and a huge public interest in the industry, this is a uniquely opportune time to shape the future of agriculture. Canadian youth are perhaps the best prepared to visualize the shape of things to come and to devise a head-on approach.
With this in mind, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Marie-Claude Bibeau gathered a diverse group of young people involved in agriculture to provide their perspectives on the industry. Dubbed the Canadian Agricultural Youth Council (CAYC), it is designed to guide the direction of the sector.
“The industry was mostly represented by experienced men and I thought that if we wanted to talk about the future of the industry, it was important to hear directly from young people in underrepresented groups,” said Bibeau. “It’s important to get a more diversified voice.”
No stranger to the organization of youth councils, Bibeau introduced the idea after having a successful experience with a youth council in her Quebec riding of Compton–Stanstead. “That was a really great way to get a sense of what the young people in our community were seeing and thinking,” she said.
When applications for CAYC were opened, approximately 800 people put their name forward. That number was whittled down to 25 with the goal of representing a wide array of agricultural sectors and job descriptions. “We wanted to have a very knowledgeable council and diversified in terms of gender, culture and the sector they work in,” said Bibeau.
CAYC member B. Pratyusha Chennupati said her focus on the council is to carry out meaningful work to guarantee the good health of Canada’s agriculture industry for years to come. Chennupati is a graduate of the Alberta Wheat Commission and Alberta Barley 2019 AdvancingAg mentee program. “We have a great agriculture system in Canada. I came from India. I’m a chemical engineer who fell in love with the agriculture industry here,” she said.
It was her ag industry experience while completing her master’s degree in plant sciences at McGill University that led Chennupati to ponder how farmers can better access new technology. “The regulatory system is not up to date to bring that technology to the marketplace,” she said. “There are some [technologies] that will never see the light of day.” Now working with Nufarm as a registration specialist, Chennupati is well-positioned to advise on such issues.
The 25-person council has also received criticism for a lack of adequate farmer representation. Just four active farmers serve as members. Bibeau said CYAC’s wide range of member resumes was intended to represent the breadth of the ag industry.
“It’s a challenge to make sure things are perfectly balanced in the group, but it was not meant to be exclusively producers,” she said. “We need processors, scientists and finance people thinking about food security—all those areas.”
The group will also advise the federal ministry directly, addressing the future direction of agriculture as well as current affairs within the Canadian sector. “The keyword of the first meeting was definitely ‘awareness.’ Many, many of them raised the importance of public trust, something they care about and want to strengthen,” said Bibeau.
The group’s second meeting in November focused on the buildout of a new national food policy. It also acquainted the group with additional key ministry personnel. “I want our department, our officers and specialists, to develop a reflex of asking the council for their advice and recommendations,” said Bibeau.
Chennupati said their work is off to a productive start. “As Council members, we’ve started doing a SWOT analysis of Canadian agriculture—our strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats— to see what we can do to make meaningful contributions to the department,” she said.
Members will provide input on agricultural policies and decisions made by Bibeau and it is intended that the group will become a fixture in the federal ag policy realm long-term. “The Council doesn’t just belong to me as a minister,” said Bibeau. “It belongs to the department and it will be there to last.”