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Mark Phillips



I grew up on a potato and beef farm in Arlington, Prince Edward Island and gained experience working on the farm during my formative years. From a young age, I was very passionate about agriculture and planned to follow in my father's footsteps on the farm. As I got older and my hobbies and interests became more diverse, I became less involved in agriculture and began working and living in more urban settings. After graduating from university with a degree in Business, I found myself back on the farm for a brief stint while I decided where I wanted my education to take me.

The short stint on the farm rekindled my interest in agriculture. When a job opportunity came to join the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, I found it exciting to tie my agricultural interests with the more urban lifestyle I had become accustomed to while at university. At present, I have been with the PEI Potato Board for over thirteen years, starting as a Market Information Officer and then adding marketing responsibilities as their Marketing Specialist. I have remained heavily invested in agriculture through my employment with the Board and keeping tabs on the home farm through my father.

Hearing my general manager talk about the Nuffield Agricultural Scholarship program, I became interested in the program and was fortunately successful in my application. From my time spent between urban and rural life on PEI, I have always been interested in public trust in agriculture. I have a unique perspective of seeing things from a farmer’s perspective and also understanding why some issues may not resonate as well with the general public. The Nuffield opportunity has allowed me to research this topic from an international perspective while satisfying my love of travel.

Public Trust in Agriculture

Several key findings have emerged through my period of research and travel. Developed through discussions with producers, industry and regulatory representatives and my fellow scholars, the following concepts have provided significant insight into understanding the challenges of public trust in agriculture.

  1. The Rural/Urban Divide: There is a growing separation between rural and urban populations, and with this comes a loss of community and a disconnect between farmers and consumers. Consumers are losing knowledge of how food is produced, and this disconnect fosters a weakening of public trust.

  2. Engage, not Educate: Feeling the need to educate consumers is a typical response to a seemingly rapid increase in misinformation surrounding food production and agriculture; however, using the approach of engagement over education creates a stronger connection with the consumer.

  3. Transparency versus Information Overload: There is a fine line between industry transparency and providing a consumer with an overwhelming amount of unnecessary information. Transparency inherently casts light on practices that may become issues in public trust, and proactive approaches are necessary.

  4. Tallest Trees Catch the Most Wind: The larger the industry, the more likely it is to become the subject of public focus.

  5. Competitive Marketing: Competitive marketing, the act of highlighting the weakness of your competition as a marketing strategy, can result in consumer confusion and an overall erosion of public trust in agriculture.

  6. Economic versus Environmental Sustainability: The economic sustainability of farming can be threatened by requirements to implement environmentally sustainable practices. Ensuring farmers are at the table when developing environmental goals, and financial aid to implement, can make all the difference in the uptake and success of both the economy and the environment.

  7. The Power of the Consumer: The consumer is always right. While this statement may not be true, it highlights the power of the consumer. The consumer drives the consumption of agricultural products, and this is irrespective of the knowledge the consumer has of farming practices.

Viewing the issue of public trust from a global perspective has taught me that building public trust and gaining a social license to farm requires efforts tailored to the specific industry and local community needs. In response, the following recommendations are made for consideration for the local potato industry in Prince Edward Island.

  1. Engagement with newcomers: Engagement with newcomers and sharing agricultural knowledge and product use is the way of the future.

  2. Measuring contributions: Metrics in place for measuring sustainability lend authenticity and foster public trust.

  3. Go to where the people you want to reach go: Engagement requires reaching members of the public who may not actively be involved in agriculture or agriculture supporters.

  4. Be Proactive: Actively maintaining the social license to farm requires a proactive approach to public trust.

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