Canada is an agriculture giant. And Canadian farmers feed the world. We export half of our beef and cattle, and 70% of our pork. We’re the world’s sixth largest wheat exporter and the top producer of canola. In all, agriculture accounted for 2% of Canada’s total GDP over the last decade and currently employs over 300,000 Canadians.
But the sector is also a major contributor to the current climate crisis. Agriculture generates about 10% of our country’s greenhouse gases and the amount of energy it uses grew 30% between 2008 and 2018.
“It’s been well known that agrifood is one of the principal contributors to the climate crisis we face,” said Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain. “We’ve been working for a long time trying to do the right thing to improve our footprint.”
McCain and Canadian regenerative farmer Brent Preston joined us for the second episode of The Climate Conversations, a special podcast miniseries from Disruptors.
So how can we move towards a more sustainable future in the food sector? McCain told us that regenerative agriculture—a set of farming practices that leverage nature to address climate change—could convert the industry from “one of the largest sources of the problem, to one of the only sources of solution.” Maple Leaf Foods made headlines in late 2019 after announcing they are the first food company globally to be carbon neutral.
Low tech practices, including the use of cover crops (crops not grown to harvest, but to feel the soil) can help reduce emissions, while increasing crop resiliency, McCain said. Another example is anaerobic digestion (technology that takes methane from manure, concentrates then captures it, and converts it to a renewable fuel).
But as Preston noted, it takes time and money to realize the economic benefits. “A lot of farmers don’t have that ability to spend three to five years losing money on a practice before they start making money on it,” he said. “The precariousness of a lot of farmers in terms of the financial position means they’re very risk-averse and they don’t want to try out new practices, especially if it’s going to take three or four or five years for those practices to start paying dividends.”
Despite these hesitations, if Canada is to achieve its target of Net Zero emissions by 2050, change in the agriculture and farming sector needs to happen now.
“One of the principles when we started down this journey [of carbon neutrality]—and this was as important internally as it was externally—was we said, ‘we’re going to take the first step, but only on the premise of progress, not perfection’,” said McCain.
“And I think that serves us well on this journey.”
To read RBC Thought Leadership and Economics 2019 report, Farmer 4.0: How the coming Skills revolution can transform agriculture, please click here.
RBC Future Launch has launched a program that aims to unlock the full potential of Canadian youth by providing access to skill development, networking, work experience, mental well-being services and other resources to empower youth for the diverse jobs of tomorrow in our Canadian agriculture industry. To learn more, click here.
Speaker 1 [00:00:01] Hi, it’s John here.
Speaker 2 [00:00:02] And it’s Theresa
Speaker 1 [00:00:03] Theresa. I know you’re something of a foodie, and I’ve always wanted to ask you, how much thought do you put into your carbon footprint when you’re cooking and eating?
Speaker 2 [00:00:13] Oh, I have put a fair amount into the carbon footprint of what I cook, so I kind of reduce my meat consumption as much as I can to try to consume plant-based alternatives. And I do think about how water intensive, different alternatives are. So something that I’ve learned through my cooking adventures in the pandemic is to go to the farmer’s market, find what is being produced seasonally, what’s available seasonally and then building your meals from that.
Speaker 1 [00:00:41] I’m glad you raised that because I find even for meat consumption, how valuable it is to talk to farmers or people who work with the farmers about the cuts of the meat you might be buying. So the closer we can get to the food producers, even though that’s not always possible, the better it is for our own consumption. You know, one of the challenges in Canada’s search for climate action is we don’t always know where the problem lies, and that includes what we eat wherever we may be in the country. Unlike, say, the oilsands, which are very concentrated in one region. Emissions from the production of food are distributed across the country and often hidden by bucolic landscapes or just our distance as consumers from the producers of our food. But there’s no hiding from the fact that farming generates about eight to 10 percent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. We all need food. Many of us love food and want to continue to enjoy sustainably produced food. And for Canada, that could be a huge opportunity to create more sustainable food products, not just for us here at home, but for the world.
Speaker 2 [00:01:41] We are definitely seeing more of those sustainable solutions on the food growing side, but holistically. We also have to address how food gets to our kitchens and the increasingly global supply chain for agriculture. I think it’s very important for consumers to understand where their food comes from, how far their food has traveled and reduce that physical distance between food growers and food consumers. My partner, James, his family owns an independent apple farm in Creamery, the Morrison Century Farm, and they sell their apples locally. Farmers markets, they accept visitors who come and buy apples by the bushel. And because these visitors does the actual farm, they may ask questions about how apples are grown and they get a deeper understanding of what it takes to produce food. And then I think that starts to help them truly grasp the real cost of having a meal and the role that they might play in the whole landscape.
Speaker 1 [00:02:32] I love apple farms and was lucky enough to be able to eat an apple right off the tree the other day and got me thinking a little bit. Trees are just as you were saying about the carbon footprint of that apple coming straight off the tree versus buying it, let’s say, in a grocery store. And most of us, if not all of us need grocery stores. It just makes food accessible, convenient and even affordable, but often creates a distance between us and the producer. And like so many things connected to the climate conversation, Theresa, a change in those very consumer attitudes is going to be critical. Will we ultimately pay for a more sustainable form of agriculture? You mentioned apples. Are we willing to spend an extra dollar or maybe two dollars for that apple because it’s locally produced and uses fewer chemicals? And does knowing that a producer is carbon neutral makes us more willing to buy from that producer, even if it’s not the cheapest option on the grocery shelves? This is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. I’m John Stackhouse
Speaker 2 [00:03:37] and I’m Trinh Theresa Do, welcome to the climate conversations. In this week’s installment of the Climate Conversations, a special multi-part series on Disruptors that’s exploring viable paths towards Net Zero. We talked to two influential players in Canada’s vital agricultural sector.
Speaker 1 [00:04:00] That’s right, after the break, you’ll hear my conversation with a pioneering farmer from Creemore, Ontario. Not far from that, apple farm trees are just mentioned who have some provocative things to say about the future of agriculture. But first, we look at the big climate challenges facing Canada’s largest food producers. There are few economic sectors more central to the debate about climate change than agriculture and food production. Our next guest has been thinking a lot about a warming climate and how his business may be contributing to it, but also affected by climate change, and it’s key to any solution. Michael McCain has been president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, one of Canada’s largest and oldest food producers, since 1999. In recent years, Maple Leaf has made carbon reduction a central focus and today claims to be the most sustainable protein company on Earth. Michael, welcome to disrupters.
Speaker 3 [00:04:52] John. Thank you for having me today on this very important topic.
Speaker 1 [00:04:56] You’ve been CEO of Maple Leaf Foods for a couple of decades now, and I just want to take you back to a moment when you realized that you had to make climate a strategic issue and what captured your attention?
Speaker 3 [00:05:09] Well, the science has been clear for some time. John, it’s certainly clarified over the last number of years, some more vividly. But it has been somewhat clear for a long period of time, and it’s been well known that agrifood is one of the principal contributors to the climate crisis we face. So we’ve been working for a long time trying to do the right thing to improve our footprint, going back for probably a decade. However, I’m reminded of a period of time several years ago when I’m sitting at Davos and in a luncheon discussion with 200 of the world’s leading activists, there are climate activists, food activists, animal welfare activists. I must say I felt a little bit like Darth Vader in the middle of the room. But you know, their whole thesis was the collective goal to eliminate animal meat production by 2035, and I’m the largest shareholder of the largest meat company in Canada. That’s a crystallizing point of view. You know, we had a bit of an existential moment inside our organization where we have to decide, are we going to put our foot in yesteryear and defend and promote all the good things we’re doing? Or are we going to recognize that these activists there may not be fully right, but they’re not wrong either. And that is much better and more productive for us to embrace the problem and embrace the reality that the agrifood footprint and specifically the meat footprint has not been appropriately managed over many decades and that we do need to change.
Speaker 1 [00:06:38] Talk to us about how it’s going at Maple Leaf in 2014. You set out to reduce the emissions. You’ve got five production facilities across North America, and you set out to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2025. It’s an extraordinary goal for just ten years. How how’s it going?
Speaker 3 [00:06:55] Well, actually, John, well, we’ve sort of taken this in two tranches. We established our first tranche of goals, which was a reduction of in our footprint of 25 percent by 2025. We’re sort of on track to that as we speak. We’re getting close to 2025 now, but most of the components of our emissions are down in the 20 to 22 percent range. But we’ve reframed those two years ago when we were one of the first companies to actually adopt science based targets at the time. In the fall of 2019, there were 290 companies, I think two in Canada. We were one of those to 290 globally.
Speaker 1 [00:07:36] And Michael, what does what does that mean?
Speaker 3 [00:07:38] Science-Based targets Once the Paris accord was adopted, it became painfully obvious to most leaders and science advocates around the world that the collection of target setting of most industrial organizations, the sum total of their targets were not credible and didn’t add up to the one and a half degree limitation that was established in the Paris accord. And it’s a central body that accepts applications for targets, reviews them with a very scientific lens for their robustness and their scientific integrity, to the extent that if everybody around the world adopted science based targets, which are, by the way, very aggressive, if everybody adopted science based targets, we would meet the goals of the Paris court simultaneously in 2019, following the very important architecture of avoid, reduce, recycle and offset. In that order, recognizing that you know the first three have to be committed to before you get to the third. We also became the very first food company in the world. To become carbon neutral now,
Speaker 1 [00:08:50] I wonder if you can walk us through a couple of the key decisions for you that got you to carbon neutrality. You’ve had to offset some of it. But what did you do in your own operations that got you down the path
Speaker 3 [00:09:03] again with the backdrop of a large constituency saying that you know you don’t deserve to be in business against the backdrop of an owner, operator and a family that has a 30 year generational view, saying, Do I want to own this meat company over a 30 year period on the back of being carbon neutral versus, you know, the alternative? And yet will we make less money? Maybe, maybe some, depending on how well we monetize that? You know, we don’t have to convince everybody that they should buy more from us just a few. But we just decided that that was the long term, better calculus to own a carbon neutral company, particularly in the context of the vision that we had established. So we did two years of analytics with some outside help just to make sure that we were not just making an impulsive decision, but, you know, to be the first in the world of that, we had to make sure that we were very careful in that in that calculus.
Speaker 1 [00:09:55] In 2017, you made the decision to enter the plant based protein market when you bought light life foods. Michael, how do you see Maple Leafs product mix changing over the coming years?
Speaker 3 [00:10:05] We see it as additive protein. The consumer’s migration today is they want more protein in their diet, not less. They want more choice in the proteins that they select plant versus meat. It’s the rise of flexitarians over vegetarians or vegans. And ultimately, there’s the evidence would suggest that it will be additive to meat consumption is not going to go away, which is over the course of the next 10 years. So it’s not a substitution effect that’s taking place here. We wanted to respect that need for choice and additive protein. We obviously want it to be in the growth markets. But the most important point unsustainability sustainability is plant based protein is not the answer to the sustainability challenges of the meat industry. The sustainability challenge of the meat industry are embodied in fixing the ills of the meat industry, not replacing it, like asking the transportation sector, you know, cars are our bad, so get people to walk to work. No, that’s not going to work. We have to fix the ills of the industry, and we believe that the footprint of animal meat production can be normalized to a sustainable level. And that’s our pursuit.
Speaker 1 [00:11:13] Walk us through a bit of that pursuit. What can the industry do to reduce its own footprint directly in the production of meat?
Speaker 3 [00:11:19] When you look at transportation, inbound transportation, outbound transportation, the movement of cars and vehicles, it’s a bubble on the chart, but it’s a really damn small one. The lion’s share of emissions in our footprint come from two sources. Number one manure and number two grains grain production. I mean, they’re overwhelmingly large bubbles manure because it’s methane. Methane, as you know, is 28 to one in the ratio of its impact on the environment relative to carbon. It is a very corrosive emission because of that concentration, and it shows up in intensive meat production manure in grains. It shows up in agricultural practice and agricultural practice that for a hundred years has unleashed carbon from the soil where it’s been for the millennia into the atmosphere, where it has been having the effect that we’ve all seen. But there are two technologies that are heavy hitters that are fundamentally game changers that have the capacity over the next 10 years to convert an industry from being one of the largest sources of the problem to being one of the only sources of solution. One of them is regenerative agriculture, and the other is anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion is a technology that takes the methane from manure, concentrates it intensifies it, captures it and convert it to a renewable fuel. To the extent that that can be economically applied across the animal meat production system, you convert that largest bubble into a renewable energy source with respect to regenerative agriculture. That’s reversing the negative effects of 100 years, 100 years of poor agricultural practice to not just release carbon from soil into the atmosphere, but actually convert it to sequestering that carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil where it belongs. There are agricultural practices that are tested time true if applied properly and consistently, have that sequestration capacity. It’s very, very exciting.
Speaker 1 [00:13:25] You mentioned consumers and the reality that while we all care about climate, we may not make it part of our food buying decision when we’re actually at the make me counter or in the in the deli. But what’s holding us back?
Speaker 3 [00:13:39] Consumers care, you know, in this order of preference, they care about what goes in their body first, what goes on their body? Second, what’s around their body? Third, and this one certainly falls into the third category. Number two is, you know, let’s put that against the backdrop of other issues connected to the food chain. Things like food insecurity. Affordability. You know, if you are single mother, two kids, one income operating on a budget. There are lots of considerations and carbon neutrality might be, you know, down on the list relative to other subjects. And so, you know, I also think that I also think one of the things that none of us do very well is we don’t calibrate Horizon. We tend to worry less about what’s going to happen next year, the year after 10 years from now versus what’s going to happen next week, next month, six months from now. We know that carbon neutrality in the end, the story of the carbon crisis, probably, and I’m sixty two years old problem. You know, it’s going to affect my life a little, but not a lot. It’s going to affect my grandchildren a lot. It’s going to be life changing, game changing for my grandchildren. So there’s I think consumers sometimes succumb to a little bit of the, you know, the horizon effect.
Speaker 1 [00:14:59] I wonder, as we move to close Michael, if you can give us a global perspective, you operate in Canada, you’re huge in Canada, but you also operate significantly in the United States and Australia. What are you seeing in other markets and what are you sensing around the world in terms of where agriculture is going, where food production is going? With respect to climate action,
Speaker 3 [00:15:20] I think if you did a heat map, John, you would find it the hottest in continental Europe, the coolest in Asia, kind of Canada, the North America kind of neutral. But there’s a lot of greenwashing and a lot of carbon denial in the U.S. industry. And I think to some degree, because we compete so directly with the U.S. that that has a bit of an overflow. You know, we have a three percent for three to four percent market share. And so we, you know, we can go into the U.S. marketplace and we’re the disruptor in that market and we are gaining a very pointed and well-known reputation for being leaders in this space. And you know, when you got three to four percent market share, you don’t have to convince everybody. You just got to miss a few people to favor you with some type of growth. One of the principles when we started down this journey and this was as important internally as it was externally was, we said, we’re going, we’re going to take the first step, but only on the premise of progress, not perfection. And I think that serves us well on this journey
Speaker 1 [00:16:17] might be a good message for a lot of listeners across the country as we wrap up
Speaker 3 [00:16:20] progress over perfection. It’s a good message for a lot of listeners to recognize that sometimes disruption comes with a lack of perfection.
Speaker 1 [00:16:29] Michael, thank you for being on disruptors.
Speaker 3 [00:16:30] Thank you, John. It’s been wonderful to spend the time with you today.
Speaker 1 [00:16:33] Coming up after the break, we talked to an Ontario farmer who’s advocating for a new model of agriculture, one in which the goal is to produce less food, not more. So stay right there.
Speaker 2 [00:16:49] You’re listening to Disruptors and RBC podcast. I’m Theresa Dohme, RBC Economics and Thought Leadership recently released a report called The Two Trillion Dollar Transition. It explores the costs and benefits of Canada’s shift to a carbon neutral economy and how it can fuel a new generation of Canadian innovation, from carbon capture technology to sustainable agriculture to the full potential of supercharging electric vehicles. We look at all the ways for Canada to take a leading role in the fight for climate action and the economic opportunities they create. To learn more. Check out the link in the show notes of this episode and visit our bbc.com. Net zero. And be sure to like and follow disruptors wherever you get your podcasts.
Speaker 1 [00:17:38] Welcome back. Theresa. I’m really struck by something Michael McCain said about horizons and how we’re so focused on the immediate future that especially older generations, those in positions of power don’t look down the road at how much carbon emissions will cost our children and grandchildren. How do we overcome that Horizon’s problem?
Speaker 2 [00:17:56] I think it’s as simple as talking about it and creating empathy. If you’re someone who cares about the detrimental effects of climate change, but perhaps older members of your family don’t talk to them openly and without judgment, talk to them about the benefits of doing certain things sustainably and differently, like how much money you save by choosing energy efficient systems to power your home, or, in my case, with food. I’m talking to my parents, James, his family, about how easy and delicious it is to use plant based meat instead of meat. Me and you know, we’re seeing younger generations are forcing a shift in consumption habits, things like plant protein burgers, which is a major focus of maple leaf foods. So I do believe that it starts with influencing drone circles and hoping that they receive the message and can share that along.
Speaker 1 [00:18:44] Well, the challenges of getting to net zero are a problem confronting all generations of consumers and all sizes of agriculture operations. The 100 acre farm owned and operated by our next guest definitely falls into the smaller category, though he has an outsized influence in the sustainable agriculture movement over the past 15 years. Brant, Preston and his wife, Gillian have turned New Farm, which is based in Creedmoor, Ontario, 120 kilometers north of Toronto, into a thriving organic operation. They grow vegetables for restaurants, retail stores and wholesale customers right across southern Ontario. Brant is a former journalist, and his first book was called The New Farm. After 10 years on the front lines of the Good Food Revolution, it was published by Random House Canada in 2017 and offers a hopeful vision for farming’s future, outlining a model of agriculture built around three simple principles. First, to feed Brent’s young family. Second, to strengthen the environment. And third to nourish the local community. Brant, welcome to disruptors.
Speaker 4 [00:19:48] Thanks so much for having me.
Speaker 1 [00:19:50] So I before we get going, but I think we need to be clear with the audience. You weren’t actually born a farmer. How did you get into farming?
Speaker 4 [00:19:57] It’s an interesting question. I’m not sure myself sometimes, but you’re right. I was born in Toronto. I grew up in suburban Toronto and worked in international development and human rights and journalism for a number of years. It was really after having a couple of kids and living in the city, my wife and I felt like we needed to do something really concrete and substantial about some of the big issues that we’re seeing around us, especially climate change. And there was really a motivation to have a hands on role in the fight against climate change that pushed us out of the city, and we bought a farm and have kind of never looked back. We sort of went into it thinking that there was going to be a trade off between our desire to farm in a way that was good for the environment and the climate and the amount of money we could make on the farm. And we’ve actually found the opposite that focusing on environmental issues and focusing on the climate impact of our farmers actually made our operation more profitable.
Speaker 1 [00:20:50] Tell us more about that because a lot of farmers who I’ve met over the years, but also in researching climate change and sustainability, will say it’s incredibly tough to make a buck to begin with, and now you’re adding on other costs related to sustainability. So how have you made it work where maybe some of your neighbors are a bit more skeptical?
Speaker 4 [00:21:10] In a couple of ways, I think, first of all, it takes time. So the economic benefits from climate friendly or environmentally friendly farming don’t materialize immediately. It takes some time and trial and error in order to realize those benefits. The other problem is that there’s very little support for farmers to make that transition. There’s not a lot of effort spent at our universities and research institutions on figuring out the ways that farmers can farm in a more environmentally sustainable way. And then also, there are very much short term costs. So the transition is expensive and it’s difficult. And I think because so many farmers are in such a precarious financial position, they don’t have the cushion to take a few years of losses in order to get these practices established. So I think that the precariousness of a lot of farmers in terms of the financial position means they’re very risk adverse and they don’t want to try out new practices, especially if it’s going to take three or four or five years for those practices to start paying dividends.
Speaker 1 [00:22:13] Earlier, we got to speak with Michael McCain of Maple Leaf Foods about a lot of these challenges across the agriculture industry and also in food processing, which his company is trying to take head off. They, of course, are much bigger than than your operation have capital and technology that you may not have access to, but there’s different challenges when you talk to your neighbors, whether it’s. The local coffee shop or wherever you catch up on some of these ideas, what do you suggest to them in terms of getting started?
Speaker 4 [00:22:45] Well, there’s some sort of low hanging fruit there practices that are low tech proven in use on a lot of Canadian farms that there’s very, very sound research showing that they can help reduce agricultural emissions and increase resilience. And so the easiest example is cover crops. So these are crops that are grown not to harvest, but to feed the soil and enhance their fertility on the farm in order to promote the growth of the cash crop that you want to grow. So we’ve been cover cropping on our farms for 15 years. The benefits are very, very obvious increased soil health, increased soil biodiversity, better water holding capacity in the soil, better ability to withstand drought and a really effective means of driving carbon down into the ground, pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and putting into the ground. They’re also a really good way to reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that we use, and I think it’s really important to remember that nitrogen fertilizer is actually the single biggest source of emissions on Canadian farms. So anything we can do to reduce the amount of synthetic fertilizer we use on our farms is going to have an immediate benefit to the climate. So a practice like cover cropping is is something that’s really accessible to farmers. Well understood. We call it the gateway practice for environmental practices on the farm. It’s really, really beneficial on a whole bunch of levels.
Speaker 1 [00:24:06] If things like cover cropping are so sensible the way you’re, you’re laying it out, why? Why isn’t everyone doing it?
Speaker 4 [00:24:13] Because there’s an initial cost that takes three to five years, the research shows, before farmers start realizing the private economic benefits of cover cropping. And a lot of farmers don’t have that ability to spend three to five years losing money on a practice before they start making money on it. The other one is that there hasn’t been a lot of public research and education for farmers on how to implement this practice. So cover cropping seed mixes and cover cropping techniques have almost entirely been developed by farmers. This research, by and large, is not happening in our public universities, so there’s not a lot of information for farmers if they want to adopt that practice. So it gets to a whole bunch of problems that we see in the agricultural sector that are major input companies who have an interest in selling products to farmers are the primary funders of agricultural research and the primary funders of agricultural institutions in Canada. And cover cropping is, by definition, a low input practice that reduces the amount of things that farmers have to buy. It reduces the amount of expenses we incur in our farm, and that’s good for the bottom line of individual farmers. But it’s not necessarily good for the bottom line of the people who are who are funding agricultural research in this country.
Speaker 1 [00:25:31] Some people may argue that we need those inputs to increase production and increase efficiency not only to feed Canada, but to help feed the world to hungry and growing world. You gave a TED talk three or four years ago and titled The World Needs Less Food a very provocative title. Explain a bit why the world may need less food.
Speaker 4 [00:25:53] Well, it shouldn’t be provocative because it’s I think it’s pretty straightforward right now. Globally, we have a glut of calories available at the household level on every continent, including South America, including Africa. We have more calories available on average than we need to keep us healthy as human beings. So a lot of the time, the people who are arguing for the necessity of a high input agricultural system, those higher input systems are producing a lot of things like corn and meat, calories that that are often going into highly processed foods that are not making people healthy. We see that malnutrition is, of course, a really, really serious problem. But malnutrition is caused by inadequate distribution of food, not by an absolute lack of food. And what we’re seeing everywhere in the world is that obesity related illnesses are rapidly increasing. And globally, obesity is now responsible for the deaths of three times as many people as malnutrition. So I think we need to get over this idea that we need to keep pumping inputs into our farms and producing more and more food to feed the world because the world is already, to a large extent, overfed.
Speaker 1 [00:27:09] One of the things that Michael McCain shared with us, which stuck with me, I find it fascinating is he challenge of getting consumers to pay for this. We tend to want to pay less for food, not more. We’re very price sensitive in the grocery aisle. There are, of course, great exceptions to that. But I think food producers, big or small know the challenge of convincing consumers to pay, especially to absorb some of what Bill Gates may. Called the green premium of sustainably produced agriculture in your experience, bred in farming, you’ve talked a bit about the investments you need upfront and the time you need, but at the consumer end. How has your thinking evolved in terms of what we humans are willing to absorb to help farmers produce in the way that you’re describing?
Speaker 4 [00:27:58] Well, I think I think first of all, it’s really important to recognize that as Canadians, we pay less for food as a portion of our income than any other country in the planet, except maybe the United States, and that we spend less of our time earning money to buy food than any other civilization in human history. So I think we have to start from the recognition that our food is ridiculously cheap right now. That doesn’t mean that people are going to gladly pay more for it, but I think we have to start from that recognition. Secondly, I don’t think that any big environmental or social problem has ever been solved by consumer behavior. So we’re not going to solve the climate crisis or the farm crisis by just convincing individual consumers that they need to pay more for their food. We need to ensure that people are paying the true cost of their food. And right now, a lot of food is really cheap because the environmental and climate costs of those food are externalized. They’re borne by not by the consumer, but by poorly paid farm workers, by farmers who can’t make a living, by the local environment that suffers because of the farming practices that are employed and from our climate. So we need to start paying the full cost of food, and I personally believe that means that Canadians are going to have to get used to paying more for their food. To be frank, whether they like it or not. And it’s also important to realize that a lot of the food that Canadian farmers are producing is going into food products where the very, very large majority of the price of that food product on the shelf in the grocery store is for things other than the cost of the money that was paid to the farmer is one egg, analysts told me a long, long time ago. If you doubled the price of corn, it wouldn’t make any difference on the price of a box of corn flakes in the store. Because those corn flakes, the cost of the processing distribution, the markup of all the people in the food chain, the packaging, the marketing that’s, you know, 80 90 percent of the cost of that product. So I think, you know, we’re not going to solve the problem of food affordability or accessibility on the backs of farmers. Consumers at some point are going to have to pay more.
Speaker 1 [00:30:11] Right. You’ve been farming for 15 years, roughly and seeing in very different ways the impacts of climate change. What do you see today that was not so evident a decade or a decade and a half ago.
Speaker 4 [00:30:26] We’ve seen very marked changes in climate over the past 15 years. Just on our farm. We have very, very different weather patterns now than we started with. What is really hit home is that we’re now entering an era of extreme variability. So we have colleagues who we’re in contact with on the Canadian prairies, who’ve just had a devastating year. They’ve had to they’ve had to go out to harvest their crops in the middle of the night because their equipment was setting their fields on fire when they’re working during the heat of the day. And it never occurred to me 10 years ago that that we would actually have farms burning because of climate change. It’s just absolutely remarkable. But here on our farm, we’ve had the best growing season we’ve ever had. We’ve had lots of rain, lots of heat, really, really regular rain, whereas the last two years we’ve had really bad drought. So I think what we what we’re realizing here is that we’re in an era of real unpredictability and that the practices that we need to employ to reduce our emissions are pretty much the same as the practices that are going to help us withstand that variability in the future. And so it’s a it’s an imperative for survival of our business to adapt to climate change.
Speaker 1 [00:31:39] This has been an inspiring conversation. Brant, thanks for joining us on, disrupters.
Speaker 4 [00:31:43] Thanks so much, John. It’s been a real pleasure.
Speaker 2 [00:31:46] What an interesting conversation, John. It sounds like a real challenge to be a farmer these days, you know, not knowing whether you’re going to have a bumper crop one year or a drought that wipes you out the next.
Speaker 1 [00:31:58] You know, it really gets back to what Brant said about not only embracing practices that reduce carbon emissions, but also learning to adapt to climate change is something I’ve always admired in farmers. They understand the environment and climate better than most of us, their livelihoods, and for many of them, their purpose in life is inextricably linked to the world around them, to the natural world, around them, which they want to strengthen through everything they do in farming.
Speaker 2 [00:32:25] Mm-Hmm. Absolutely. They are so incredibly resilient. Well, stay with us in the weeks ahead for more provocative climate conversations and cutting edge solutions. And you know, it’s impossible to. Talk about climate change without addressing oil and gas. Next time we explore how Canada’s energy sector is reinventing itself to meet its net zero future. Until then, I’m Theresa Do.
Speaker 1 [00:32:48] and I’m John Stackhouse. This is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. Talk to you soon.
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