To set the stage for 2018 I reflect on a meaningful experience from the past year. In November, I attended the GrowCanada 17 national conference “Unleashing Agriculture’s Potential” hosted by CropLife Canada in beautiful Calgary, Alberta. This event celebrated Canada’s phenomenal agriculture achievements and connected leaders in the industry to share their expertise with a broad audience. Farmers, producers, scientists, entrepreneurs, dietitians, agriculture-students, food bloggers, chefs and more gathered to learn about cutting edge insights in advancing Canadian agriculture.

I became a dietitian to combine my love of cooking, science and desire to help others lead healthier lives. For much of my practice I focused on how specific foods benefited health. How a fibre rich diet improves digestive health, omega-3 fatty acids benefit heart health, and calcium rich foods help maintain strong bones; but I rarely thought about where this “tool box” of health-enhancing foods actually came from. Over the past years, I’ve received an increasing number of questions from clients concerning how our food is grown. These questions have made me realize there was a gap in my knowledge regarding agriculture. To help bridge the gap between the public’s understanding of how nutritious food is grown, who grows it, how it is processed and makes its way onto their dinner tables; I have been on a journey of “agricultural growth”. By integrating information from GrowCanada 17 into my practice I am now better able to answer client’s questions with confidence!

Clients are concerned and confused about why pesticides are used to grow food.

Canada has some of the strictest pesticide approval and monitoring systems in the world. Canadians do not need to worry about pesticide or chemical residues in their food. Due to innovations in agriculture biotechnology only small amounts of pesticides are used safely to help farmers grow more food on less land. According to presenter Robb Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto Company, “Pests can hurt and destroy crops. Without pesticides and plant biotechnology, Canada’s farmers would need to cultivate 35 million more acres to produce the same amount of food.”

Sustainability is a key concern for clients. Farmers also care deeply about the planet and sustainable practices.

Farmers take sustainability seriously. They understand the importance of healthy soil, water and air. They eat the food they grow and feed it to their families. They depend on a healthy home and work environment to grow crops successfully. Sustainable farming practices involve growing a variety of crops and rotating crops that are grown on each field annually. Crop rotation is done because different crops need different nutrients. Growing different crops each year on the same land helps soil stay healthy and prevents depletion of key nutrients.

Another practice used to help ensure healthy soil is “no-till”. This means a layer of material from the previous year’s crop (roots and stems) are left on the field and the next crop is planted directly on top. This increases the amount of organic matter and nutrients left in the soil.

According to Fraley, agriculture biotechnology has benefited people and the earth for more than 20 years by:

  • Decreasing pesticide use
  • Increasing land preservation
  • Decreasing tillage
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions
  • Using water more efficiently
  • Increasing yields

Many people are fearful of the words genetically modified organism (GMO) or biotechnology.

It is common to fear things we do not understand. GMO is a term that is used to describe different ways of identifying genes, modifying existing genes and removing detrimental ones. Farming innovations such as GMOs actually helps ensure that there is enough food to feed the world. Farmers work hard and use technology to produce more and better food by improving natural biological processes. An interesting GMO innovation I learned about at the conference was the Arctic apple – an apple that resists browning due to a gene being removed. This innovation prevents food waste and allows pre-cut apples to be packaged as the ultimate, healthy snack food.

Other topics of great interest shared in Calgary included how consumers make food choices and how technology is rapidly changing the world we live in today.

Presenter Ted C. Fishman, award winning journalist and best-selling author shared how “Countries like China love Canadian food because it is safe and grown in a pristine environment. Canadian farmers should be proud of what they do to feed the world and need to share it.”

Leonard Brody, business and technology visionary shared that 90 per cent of the data created since the beginning of time has been generated in the last 24 months. “Our society is more willing to adopt technology at a pace like we’ve never seen before!” Understanding consumer behavior will play a significant role in shaping agriculture-food trends. For example, Baby Boomers want to live longer, be healthier and will want to buy their grandchildren the best quality food they can. Our food choices are part of our identity and one of the few things we feel we can control.

Economist John F. T. Scott, consultant and speaker specializing in the food distribution and retail sector discussed key consumer trends. He emphasized that consumers make choices at the grocery retail based on trust, transparency and traceability. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and that it is safe.

Trust, transparency, and two-way communication and connecting with my clients is key. I need to be open to hear their questions, and I need to be able to share with them evidence-based information to reduce fear of our food supply and instill trust to help them with their food, nutrition and health decisions.

I feel inspired sharing with clients that Canada’s farmers are committed to growing the healthiest, safest food for all 35 million Canadians and to send food around the world to feed our global neighbours. Thank you, CropLife Canada, for an incredible two days of learning! I have never been prouder of Canadian agriculture and the hard work farmers do to ensure an abundance of safe, healthy food for all!

A special thank you to Erin O’Hara from CropLife Canada for inviting me to attend this conference! It has been instrumental in helping me on my agriculture-learning journey.


Robb Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Monsanto Company

Ted C. Fishman, Journalist and Author of China, Inc.

Leonard Brody, Business and Technology Visionary

John F. T. Scott, Economist, Speaker, Consultant to the food distribution and retail sector

The Real Dirt on Farming, Canadian Farming Coast to Coast Magazine