Social Licence Provides Foundation for Agriculture Growth
In Canada, food and agriculture maintains a unique social license that plays a tremendous role in how we farm and produce food.
Social license can be simply defined as a level of public trust that allows farmers and food producers to operate. We’re expected to do what’s right for people and the environment (land, water, air). When that trust is lost, it’s replaced with rules, regulations and restrictions that can make food production more challenging.
The topic has generated much discussion in farming and food circles lately. The Centre for Food Integrity in the United States has worked extensively in the area for several years, examining the trust that the consuming public places in food producers and what is expected in return. National and provincial farm organizations in Canada have now joined the conversation as have commodity groups who have come to understand the importance of ensuring their members maintain social license.
Most of the conversation within ag revolves around farmers’ need to tell their stories: ensuring consumers understand their commitment to environmental stewardship, soil conservation, ground water protection, animal welfare – the list goes on and on. Some farmers question the need for a concerted effort to show evidence of farmers’ commitment in these areas. It’s more time, energy and money that the public is not going to pay for at the end of the day.
But when we take a closer look at the true value of social license, it’s hard to argue that farmers and agriculture are not getting a tremendous return on the trust that consumers have invested in them. This trust comes in the form of many government mandated policies and programs that provide a vast array of supports ranging from reduced taxation rates for farmland, lower taxes on inputs such as diesel fuel, and reduced vehicle licensing fees. There’s also exemptions in areas such as health and safety where regulations can be onerous for agricultural production. And let’s not forget critical risk management programs that are supported by public dollars.
Yes, governments do dip into the public purse to help out other sectors, such as the automobile industry, when hard times could bring serious economic consequences. But many programs for agriculture are unique to the sector.
As we move forward in an era of increasing public scrutiny of food production, the level of social license afforded to the sector as a whole is going to pay a greater role in how we farm and produce food. It’s also important to remember that our social license has played a critical role in supporting modern agriculture and provides a foundation on which to grow and expand in the future.