Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Agricultural Myth Busting

CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business) has attempted to bust 4 "myths" with its recent survey of CFIB members who are in the agriculture sector with their 2014 State of Canadian Agriculture Survey.  Did they achieve their purpose?

CFIB states that the public (and possibly many farmers) have the strong impression of problems in agriculture (or significant opportunities, depending on your outlook).

CFIB is upset that there is a general feeling in Canada that:
  • Agriculture is not innovative and modern;
  • The agriculture sector is shrinking.
  • Farming is unsustainable and potentially environmentally harmful.
  • Farming is moving away from family businesses toward corporate operations.
I would agree that many Canadians, if not the majority, hold these impressions.  Even those who are directly working in agriculture, or serve the agriculture industry indirectly, seem to have these concerns.

CFIB offer some survey results to try and bust what CFIB calls these "myths about Canadian agriculture".

CFIB asked some very broad and general questions, which in some ways, lead the survey participants to create a positive spin on the survey results.  In that regard, I can't agree that the survey was well constructed, nor balanced, nor objective.  Obviously, CFIB has conducted this survey for their own purposes, as well as those of the members surveyed.  The survey seems to reinforce CFIB's talking points and lobbying efforts, which is most likely the primary point and purpose of the CFIB survey.

For example, CFIB says that 81% of agri-businesses use the Internet for obtaining "information, products and/or services".  Based on the survey, we don't know whether this Internet access occurs from their own home, or their agri-business offices, or the public library, or their kid's house in the city.  Statistics Canada says that  83% of Canadians have access to Internet in their homes as of 2012.  We therefore conclude that farmers surveyed are at least 2% behind the Canadian average.  This may be within the accuracy of the survey, but certainly is not a ringing endorsement that proves Canada has world-class, tech-savvy ag. businesses.  CFIB appears to have gone way beyond the data by generous assumptions.

Agriculture is a broad area.  I focus here on this Blog on poultry (supply management & small flock), for meat birds and eggs.  I can find one comment in the survey that might be from an egg farmer:
"We invest in leadership training, we pursue new or improved product lines through R&D initiatives, we commissioned surveys into emerging market trends to support our customers’ development of their business. We are building sales into the Omega 3 market but it is very costly relative to short term payback."
The other comments might be from the poultry sector, but it is impossible to tell for sure.  While the above comment sound good, is it proof positive that clearly busts any or all of the alleged myths of agriculture?  I think CFIB has again stretched the survey data way beyond the breaking point.

Perhaps the Supply Management sectors can take this as a challenge, to construct a balanced, unbiased survey of their members, then publish ALL of the results so we can all know for sure.  Obviously, there will be areas that can be improved.  These local boards can then set their strategic plans and publish them in the open.  Everybody (government, members, small flockers, and consumers) can then fully understand the issues, the current status, and plans to improve.

Note that surveys can be constructed so as to make it difficult to impossible to get negative outcomes in the results.  I wouldn't call that a balanced, unbiased survey.  Garbage questions create garbage survey results.

Later, when a follow-up survey is conducted and published the following year, we can see the plan vs. actual, why the shortfalls occurred, and what they are going to do to close those gaps.  On-site audits by independent auditors can be done at random farm survey locations to determine how skewed the true results are, as compared to what the farmer wrote on their survey form.  Then we know what the farmer thinks (or wants others to think), and what is really going on.  That's powerful data!

That is what accountability with the public's money and power is all about.

I forecast that as long as Supply Management is allowed to exist in its current form, there is higher likelihood  of snow blizzards occurring on the Moon.  In other words, it will never happen under the current regime.

That's why this Blog exists, and will continue to advocate for substantial change in Supply Management.

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