Agriculture is the foundation of opportunity in Saskatchewan. With continued investment into research, infrastructure and talent, agriculture will continue to drive the province’s growth, improving the quality of life for all residents.
Achieving sustained growth requires three key components:
- Adoption and advancement of science-based production practices;
- Sound economics for farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses; and
- Maintenance of the public’s support and industry’s social licence.
Saskatchewan producers grow safe, healthy and affordable food for families at home and around the world. However, some people are losing trust in the agriculture industry, often because they don’t have the full story.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s 2016 Omnibus Survey, 56 per cent of Saskatchewan people do not believe all food in the grocery store is safe. Research conducted by the Centre for Food Integrity in 2016 led to a similar conclusion - less than half of Canadians believe the food system is headed in the right direction.
These perceptions have the power to affect Saskatchewan’s agriculture industry. They can influence policy makers and retailers, which could lead to unnecessary or overly burdensome regulation and limit access to the tools and technologies that farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses rely on. Maintaining the public’s trust, and thus earning the industry’s social licence to operate, is critical to agriculture’s future.
Social licence is defined by the Ministry of Agriculture as society’s trust in, and acceptance of, modern food production. It’s built by first doing what’s right as an industry, then building awareness about what we do in agriculture and why.
Partnering with industry to improve the public’s perception of agriculture, and therefore secure social licence, has been a strategic priority for the Ministry since 2012. The steps the Ministry has taken as part of these efforts include encouraging the adoption of environmental best management practices through funding programs, offering valuable extension services, investing in research, and supporting science-based assurance and regulatory systems.
In addition, the Ministry supports industry efforts to build agriculture awareness. Through the Agriculture Awareness Initiative Program, the Ministry provides funding to industry to take on projects designed to present consumers and youth with information about food production. The Ministry also partners with organizations who amplify agriculture’s story with key audiences. This includes Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan, which connects consumers to agriculture, and Agriculture in the Classroom, the leader in youth and teacher education.
All of this is not enough. The entire agriculture industry must be committed to earning, and maintaining, the public’s trust. This starts with listening to consumer concerns, then working together to address them. It also means seeking answers to the questions we have as consumers.
The Ministry has developed a Social Licence Framework that identifies consumer concerns that have the greatest capacity to impact agriculture’s growth, as well as outlines a plan to address them.
Consumer concerns generally fall under one or more of these four themes:
- Animal health and welfare – worried about how animals are treated on and off the farm;
- Environment – concerned about agriculture’s impact on the environment;
- Human health – fear the effect that food production practices and technologies could have on their own health; and
- Society – conscious of agriculture’s relationship with society, including employees, families and communities.
The Social Licence Framework starts by analyzing these concerns, digging into where they came from and what they mean. It also looks at the agriculture industry’s concerns around these same issues, and highlights where there is common ground.
Next, the Framework identifies actions that will ensure we, as an industry, are doing what’s right to address each concern. This means being critical about what we do and why we do it. As an industry, agriculture isn’t perfect, but it is always advancing through a commitment to continuous improvement.
Actions to help tell the story, and build awareness, around each of these concerns are also outlined, along with key messages supported by proof points.
The Social Licence Framework is the Ministry of Agriculture’s roadmap, but it also assigns responsibility to everyone involved in food production. It will help stakeholders across the agriculture industry apply a consumer lens to what they do.
Maintaining public trust is critical to agriculture’s sustained growth. Doing the right thing, and building awareness about what we do and why, must be made a priority by the entire food chain.