Because of the global nature of the agrifood industry, agricultural news in one country could easily be relatable to another country.

With that in mind, agricultural journalists in one country should hone strong relationships with colleagues in other countries, said Owen Roberts, past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists said during ImPRESSive, the Alltech Global Journalists Forum, held on December 7.

Roberts, a Canada native who has worked as an agricultural communications instructor at the University of Illinois and the University of Guelph, said from his perspective, “there’s no better trusted source than a journalistic colleague in another country.”

For instance, he said if he needs to find a source in Ireland, he could reach out to Claire McCormak, an Irish agricultural journalist also participating during the ImPRESSive forum, to “put him in touch with someone that can tell me the truth.”

“I believe our stories are better when they have a global perspective,” said Roberts.

Top agricultural concerns in Canada

To make his point about the international relatability of agricultural issues, Roberts spoke of the biggest challenges the Canadian agrifood industry is facing.

Flooding in British Columbia -- Arguably the biggest hardship the Canadian industry is currently facing is the flooding in British Columbia.

“It has a wonderful agriculture economy, and that economy has been washed over with incredible flooding,” said Roberts. “The photos and the videos from it (show) farmers who are trying to get their livestock to higher ground, trying to get themselves to higher ground. They are more concerned about their animals than their own safety. It’s heart-wrenching.”

But Roberts said that also drives home why journalists in other countries should work together “for stories to tell people what the truth is about what’s going on.”

Following the Canadian floods, other countries will have their agriculture industry also harmed by floods. Agricultural journalists abroad can learn from what happened in Canada, and can share with their audiences on how to prepare for floods, how communities can get involved, and how people can prepare for future floods, he said.

Farm labor and temporary workers -- Roberts said farm labor shortages and recruiting temporary workers is a “huge challenge” in Canada, particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But others can learn how Canadians have responded to such labor issues.

Mental health -- Mental health is also a universal agricultural issue, as farmers deal with unpredictable weather and markets.

“As climate situations intensify, as competition intensifies, as pressure on farmers intensifies, so do the mental health challenges they are facing,” said Roberts.

The Canadian government has programs to support mental health, Roberts noted, and others can learn from the example of those programs.

Rural internet -- The pandemic and the isolation it brought on really exposed the problems with unreliable internet service in rural areas of Canada. The government has shown a willingness to help. He also thinks there are global lessons from this situation.

Consolidation of ownership -- Consolidation of ownership a real problem for farmers, said Roberts, and farmers are wondering how they can compete with larger consolidated operations as input costs rise. Again, this situation is not exclusive to Canada.

Export markets -- Export markets and getting access to certain markets is a concern for Canadian producers, but other countries are dealing with this as well. Related to that, consumers don’t often understand how export markets impact them locally. Export markets support strong domestic markets and help keep the agricultural economy buoyant, he said.

Agricultural research -- The success of the future of agriculture is largely reliant upon a strong research base. However, research is reliant upon money from both governmental and private sources.

However, in Canada, some money that may have otherwise been allocated to research has gone to COVID-19 recovery. While Roberts doesn’t disapprove of COVID-19 recovery, he thinks it is unfortunate that research may not get as much funding in Canada and elsewhere.

“That’s a big issue because we know in agriculture, research is so important for helping us get ahead and for helping farmers farm the most sustainably that they can,” he said.