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Ag industry leaders tackle tough topics

Ag industry leaders tackle tough topics

“Grounded knowledge” needed to develop new ag policy, economists say

By Owen Roberts

With trade wars raging, climate change taking hold, labour uncertainties emerging and east-west relations deteriorating, issues facing the Canadian agri-food economy are becoming increasingly complex and urgent. To overcome these challenges, all participants must cooperate to develop sound research-based policies that help support and drive a practical way forward – something called “grounded knowledge.”

In January, many of the top agricultural economists and key policy makers in Canada will gather in Ottawa for the 10th annual Canadian Agri-Food Policy Conference. This two-day event, hosted by the Canadian Agricultural Economics Society (CAES), will draw on ag economists’ broad understanding of the sector – along with their long tradition of helping underpin policy with evidence – to address the pressing issues of the day.

This year’s conference focuses on contemporary challenges such as trade with China, African swine fever, farming in Indigenous communities, mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods and enhancing Canada’s agri-food competitiveness.

Brady Deaton, a University of Guelph agricultural economics professor, is organizing the conference. He holds the McCain Family Chair in Food Security at the university and is the outgoing president of CAES.

Agricultural economics academics have a 90-year history of engaging in an organized manner with public officials, farmers, farm groups and the agri-food industry, Deaton said. CAES was founded in 1929 to address agri-food issues from an economic perspective, paying close attention to Canadian issues.

For the past 10 years, the conference has furthered members’ efforts to be relevant to contemporary policy.

“Each year at our policy conference, we assess, debate, and discuss the relationship between economic ideas, their practical consequences and policy matters,” said Deaton. “The CAES and our policy conference enables participation from a wide spectrum of individuals and organizations … it’s not limited to economists. The capacity to develop grounded knowledge requires broad membership and participation in these meetings.”

Since its inception, the conference has become a premier national policy outlook for the agri-food sector. Conference presenters and attendees aim to develop an understanding of present policies and future policy aspirations that will influence and support Canada’s agri-food industry, which faces huge challenges, Deaton said.

A key element of Canadian agricultural economic policy development arising from this conference, or influenced by it, is extension – that is, extending information and knowledge from those who create it to those who use it, and vice versa.

That’s why the conference features government officials, academics like Deaton and others from his department, community stakeholders and farmers. This group shares their perspectives with one other, with the intent of the ensuing collective knowledge informing policy development.

Conference speakers include Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Chris Forbes, ag economics alumni from Guelph such as Brian Innis, vice-president of public affairs for the Canola Council of Canada, as well as University of Guelph Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics faculty members Alan Ker and Alfons Weersink.

Deaton is organizing the conference with Kara Beckles. She’s the current president of CAES and the director general of research and analysis at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

For more information about the conference, visit

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