Federation of Agriculture worried about public perception of industry

Media tour aims to highlight positive aspects of agriculture

Colin MacLean colin.maclean@tc.tc
Published on June 23, 2014

Derwin Clow of Cassialane Holsteins in Freetown was one of several farmers who gave local media tours of their facilities on Monday. The event was hosted by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture. Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer

SUMMERSIDE  – Derwin Clow is a 21st century Canadian farmer.

He can check in on his cattle from anywhere in the world using his smartphone. 

Computers regulate how much each of his animals is fed based on how much exercise they get.

Automatic brushes clean and massage his herd of 70 cattle on his Freetown farm, Cassialane Holsteins.

The cows sleep on sand because it supports their weight better than straw.

Their comfort and productivity are his first and foremost concern and he uses the latest technology to ensure both.

He’s proud of what he does.

He also reads the public comments on local media websites when articles pertain to P.E.I. agriculture.

Those he’s not so proud of.

“Some of the things people say – I read the comments and I think, there’s not one true word in that. It’s totally not reality,” said Clow, a sixth generation dairyman.

Regardless of the actual content of the article, those comments, and their often venomous overtones aimed at farmers, worry him.

The long-term survival of his industry depends on maintaining the public trust, he said, and any erosion of that trust is cause for concern.

“If I want somebody in Summerside to drink my milk instead of something that comes in from the States, or China,  I have to prove to them that my quality is better, my animals are being treated better and it’s worth it for them to buy my milk here instead of that other stuff,” he said.

Whether it’s the contentious deep-water well irrigation issue facing potato growers, the long-struggling Atlantic Beef Products plant in Albany or the almost annual fish kills in Island rivers, P.E.I. farmers have certainly been no strangers to bad press in recent years.

And Clow isn’t the only local farmer who’s noticed their profession has been taking some lumps of late.

It’s gotten to the point where the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture is taking a stand.

As the collective voice of agriculture in the province, it is hoping to remind Islanders how much farmers mean to P.E.I., and vice versa.

John Jamieson, executive director of the federation, led a group of local journalists on a tour of several farms in the East Prince area Monday. Most of the places they visited were multi-generational operations with an eye towards progressive techniques or technology.

They chose places like Clow’s dairy farm because they represent the gold standard of their industry here, said Jamieson.

“This is an example of a very progressive dairy farm, but there are actually plenty of examples like this on Prince Edward Island,” he said.

“We’re really proud of what our farmers do … so we thought it would be nice to show you what some of our guys and ladies do, and let people know that agriculture is progressive, it is family oriented, that our people are connected to our community, create wealth, hire people and those types of things.”

Jamieson reiterated that Monday’s tour was prompted by a recent increase in letters to the editor, blogs, social media and traditional media calling for sometimes radical changes to the way P.E.I. agriculture is done.

Some of those concerns are well founded with realistic solutions – others not so much, he said. 

“There’s a sense that some people want to go back to some notion of agriculture from the 1950s or ‘60s. It’s a notion that most of us have from our granddads who had the small red barn with a mixed farm. That’s not reality anymore,” he said.

What is reality is that through science, using best practices and innovative technology, P.E.I. farms can maintain their high quality standards and be profitable into the future, he said.

That’s pretty much the best-case scenario for Clow, and it’s a vision he’s worked hard to create on his farm.

He hopes that by giving the media, and by extension the public, a look into his world, they’ll get a better understanding of it.

“I just wanted to do my part. It’s really important to me that it is stressed to the general public how important quality milk and cow health care is, and how seriously we take it,” he said.