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In a recent interview, Simon Sinek, author of The Infinite Game, discussed trust and how it can be a powerful tool when working as a team toward a shared goal. What stood out about his message when I considered my work as the leader of a farmer advocacy association is that it takes empathy and perspective to build trust. You cannot expect someone to trust you if you don’t understand their point of view.

As the consultation deadline approached for the federal government’s fertilizer emissions reduction target, it has been hard to ignore social media dialogue rife with misinformation and false assumptions. While it’s easy to dismiss these statements as irrelevant because they “don’t have their facts straight,” they reflect a lack of trust. Many farmers already don’t trust this federal government, and such a lack of trust can produce dangerous outcomes. According to Sinek, “When you don’t trust someone, you become paranoid that everything they’re doing is in an effort to hurt you.”

So, how did we get here? Many would suggest this lack of trust predates the government’s 2020 announcement it will target a 30 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. Regardless of your views at the time, it certainly did not help that the target appeared uninformed and lacked the necessary details to establish a clear path forward. In the absence of both information and genuine interest on the part of government to better understand current farming practices as they relate to fertilizer use, farmers reacted out of fear. They fear the government doesn’t understand them and has the power to enact policies that will impact their livelihoods and the future of their family farms.

As someone privileged to convey the perspectives of Canadian grain farmers to government officials, I have experienced firsthand how positive strategic engagement can build trust and lead to outcomes that work for both parties. For example, consider McDonald’s direct engagement with farmers and ranchers through the Canadian roundtables for Sustainable Beef and Crops and McCain’s commitment to leverage an existing on-farm sustainability program to achieve corporate goals. Both approaches were successful because they engaged farmers and ranchers early in the process and set targets following the consultation process. 

We’re all familiar with the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” I suggest no one be left behind on this journey to the federal government’s 2050 net-zero target. To achieve this shared goal, we can only do so together through a partnership founded on trust and mutual respect.

There has never been a better time to hit the reset button. This fall, the government has committed to begin consultations on the Green Agricultural Plan announced in 2021. While this plan is intended to lay a path for emissions reduction in the sector, it cannot ignore the unprecedented challenges Canadian farmers face and the need to position them for success. These consultations provide a chance to redirect the narrative and bring farmers back to the table. They also offer the opportunity to develop a roadmap that aligns environmental potential with the economic prosperity of the agriculture sector. These two factors must go hand-in-hand to improve partnerships and farmer buy-in. 

Farmers are willing to work with the government, but they need assurance they are being heard. Without such assurance, there can be no trust, and without trust, this partnership cannot succeed. Let’s embrace this opportunity and embark on the journey to 2050 together.  

Erin K. Gowriluk is the executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada.


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