ARLINGTON, VA. — In a breakfast session to open the second day of the 96th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue welcomed his counterparts from Argentina, Canada and Mexico for a group discussion.
For the first time, Argentina’s top agriculture representative took part in Mr. Perdue’s annual chat session. Luis Basterra is Argentina’s minister of agriculture, livestock, and fisheries.
Mr. Basterra talked about Argentina’s perspective on sustainability and the challenges of being an agricultural leader for the past few decades. He noted that global changes require global responses and made clear Argentina is ready to cooperate to provide safe food to everyone with a goal of creating economic opportunity for all producers.
In the coming years, the world will “need to provide 50% more food, which will require innovation,” he said.
Mr. Perdue implored Mr. Basterra to relate the story of the Argentinian health minister hesitant to use Bt cotton, a genetically modified pest-resistant variety.
“We provide seed for small farmers, and we had a lot of small farms beside a huge farm,” Mr. Basterra said.
The ones that used Bt cotton were in great health.
“The next year the health minister said, “Let’s use Bt cotton.”
The honorable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s minister of agriculture and agri-food since March 2019, noted the importance of sharing information and innovation for improvement.
“One in eight people in Canada have a job related to agriculture, and 50% of what we produce is exported,” Ms. Bibeau said. “Farmers are facing more risk in recent years: climate change, more drought, more floods. Climate is an important issue. Trade is also bringing new challenges. We can see more and more non-tariff barriers.”
Canada relies on the quality of its products and trade, she said.
“A coordinated approach when we talk about trade is so important for our farmers to have predictability,” she said. “To know when products arrive in port in another country, they will be analyzed on science-based rules we have decided on.”
Collaboration is important to support farmers, she said. To that end, Canada is committed to ratification of the United States-Mexica-Canada Agreement (U.S.M.C.A.) — the new NAFTA — very soon.
“It’s going through normal legislative procedures, it’s on a fast track, and I don’t see any issues arising,” she said.
Ms. Bibeau said finding ways to bring scientists from the private sector and government together into farmers’ fields was a priority, especially in light of the threat of African swine fever devastating China’s livestock.
“We’re lucky (A.S.F.) hasn’t reached the continent yet,” she said. “We’re putting in place measures to prevent it. If it arrived, there are ways to manage it as quickly as possible. Agreement with the U.S. on this is important for predictability for producers.”
Ms. Bibeau, the first woman minister of agriculture in Canada, said bringing more women into the sector was a goal for her.
“We see the challenges differently, and we see the solutions differently,” she said.
Víctor Villalobos, Ph.D., Mexico’s secretary of agriculture and rural development, joined Mr. Perdue’s panel and focused on sustainability.
“We’re gathered today to share innovation and synergy,” he said. “Agriculture has taken a huge environmental toll. We must study the consequence and the solutions. We must not repeat the grievous mistakes of before. We’re here to learn from the past and overcome the challenges of the coming future.”
Dr. Villalobos extolled the virtues of the Ag Five, which also includes Brazil.
“Ag Five is a synergy of five countries with the greatest ability to produce for a growing world,” he said. “We have great technology, territories of land, water and seacoast. We can count on each other’s resources. It’s not only a matter of producing food for a growing world, but to take into account sustainability. There are controlled and uncontrolled forces such as drought and pests. In order to face them, we must apply knowledge, innovation, government assistance and the help of the private sector.
“We’re proud Mexico is leading Ag Five efforts for microbial resistance. Let’s learn to do more with less.”
The fifth representative of the Ag Five, Tereza Cristina, Brazil’s minister of agriculture, livestock and supply, was unable to attend as scheduled due to “urgent business in her country,” Mr. Perdue said, noting she had participated in forum meetings via videoconference.