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The View from the Farm Sector: Discourse in Producer Organizations around Climate, Science and Agricultural Policy, 2010-2015

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Producer organizations are powerful change agents and advocates for their industries. They give a voice to individual producers spread far and wide, and ensure that hardships endured and criticisms are heard from this sector, as it works to provide food and fibre for Canadians. This report describes the discourse by farming organizations around climate, and resulting hardships are expressed to a range of audiences, across different scales (Canada and Alberta) and commodity groups. We collected almost a hundred documents that represented the climate-related public and policy engagement of Canadian and Albertan livestock producer organizations from 2010 to 2015. We did not seek to track any trajectory over that time, because of small and/or uneven numbers of documents in any given year, but rather use those documents to take a snapshot of discourse. Qualitative coding across a range of themes and classifications (organization scale, producer group, and intended audience) has allowed generalizations appropriate to answering several questions: 1. How do producer organizations at a national and provincial scale, specifically Alberta, discuss climate and weather, and its impacts on livestock operations in particular? National organizations are much more likely to talk about climate change and Alberta organizations about weather. This pattern is similar for umbrella versus livestock/forage organizations, and documents for a government/public audience compared to membership. Those ‘closer’ to farmers are still thinking in terms of short-term events rather than long-term change. Those working at the national level speak more systemically about the trends afoot and their solutions. 2. What barriers do they see to a productive industry under climate change, and what adaptive practices and other solutions do they discuss as necessary for their industry to cope? Those discussing climate see the need for increased regulation and are less interested in insurance or relief programs. Those discussing weather have a very long list of complaints as well as a range of desires for compensations. On-farm management recommendations differ, except for rotational grazing, also referred to as controlled grazing or grazing management, was the only beneficial management practice (BMP) appearing in the lists for both climate and weather recommendations. 3. How prevalent is the farmer voice, compared with other sources of evidence? Farmers are rarely presented as experts in this advocacy work, rather they are described as a demanding or needful audience. Science is presented more neutrally as a source of evidence.
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