Recap: Communication in Agriculture Symposium


Recap: Communication in Agriculture Symposium

By Shanthanu Krishnakumar, Department of Plant Agriculture M.Sc. student

Graduate students from the Department of Plant Agriculture were proud to host the first Canadian chapter of the Dupont-Pioneer Symposia Series on Monday, November 14th at the University of Guelph.             

The symposium organized in Guelph, by a committee of students, was a one day extravaganza focusing on effective communication between stakeholders in the agriculture industry and the public. The conference was well attended with over 70 people congregated in the Arboretum Centre to listen to six amazing speakers, who shared their experiences and knowledge in communicating science.

The symposium began with a welcome address by Prof. Hugh Earl, Interim Chair, Department of Plant Agriculture. He stressed the importance of effectively communicating with the public about modern agricultural techniques in the face of unprecedented backlash to certain technologies. This was followed by a short talk on the Dupont Pioneer Symposia Series by Dr. Tabare Abadie, Lead of Research Effectiveness at Dupont Pioneer.

We then heard from Dr. Radu Totir, Senior Research Scientist, Plant Breeding and Marker Technologies Division, Dupont-Pioneer. He gave us a private industry perspective on communication requirements throughout a scientist’s career. He took us through his journey from his undergraduate studies to graduate school and finally working for Dupont-Pioneer. At every step, Totir shared anecdotes regarding communication as an essential element to progress in his career.

It was refreshing and enriching to hear from former University of Guelph president, Dr. Alastair Summerlee, who spoke about alleviating iron deficiency in the world. He spoke in particular about how his team of researchers had to overcome communication barriers and think innovatively to provide solutions to solve the iron deficiency problem in rural Cambodia. From this research, the ‘Lucky Iron Fish’ was developed. The invention is a cleverly designed piece of iron which, when used in cooking, provides the daily requirement of iron for a family. Summerlee also commented that he believes social enterprises are the way forward for businesses.

Our keynote speaker Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Head of the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida spoke about ‘discussing modern agricultural technologies with a concerned public.’ Dr. Folta talked about his own experience in communicating with different stakeholders in the agricultural industry, activists and public alike. He spoke about shared values and how, we as students should take up communicating with the public as a way to foster sound fact-based discussion of modern agricultural technologies.

Keynote speaker Dr. Kevin Folta

Keynote speaker Dr. Kevin Folta

Following a lunch break Bruce Sargent, a University of Guelph alumnus, spoke about communicating agriculture effectively in a fast-paced world. He talked about the dos and don’ts of communicating science through social media as well as his own experience in starting up a company ‘Farm Boy Productions,’ which produces videos and photography for agricultural businesses.

Bruce Sargent giving his talk on effectively communicating using social media

Bruce Sargent giving his talk on effectively communicating using social media.

Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph, spoke about combining science and ethics to effectively make decisions relating to animal welfare. He took us through a synopsis of his undergraduate course on animal welfare and the different strategies he used in effectively communicating science. He also spoke about ethics in animal welfare, providing an insight into “how the animal feels.”

The final talk of the day was presented by Jennifer Christie, an OAC alumnus and Global Network Summit Event Chair at 4-H Canada. She explained the importance of networking in order to make meaningful connections with academia, industry and the public to nurture job prospects and stay connected. She gave personal examples of how she used networking opportunities to her advantage and learned from those interactions.

From L-R: Dr. Tabare Abadie, Dr. Elizabeth Lee, Dr. Ian Duncan, Jennifer Christie and Dr. Radu Totir

From L-R: Dr. Tabare Abadie, Dr. Elizabeth Lee, Dr. Ian Duncan, Jennifer Christie and Dr. Radu Totir

A pre-conference networking event was also held the day before at The Bullring on campus, which brought together undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty and symposium speakers to interact, share ideas and make connections.

Attendees of the pre-conference social networking event

Attendees of the pre-conference social networking event

I personally learned a lot from the symposium. Generally, we as students do not communicate enough with the public regarding our research and when we do, we can come across as arrogant and elitist. I learned that communication should really begin with a discussion on shared values that brings both sides on the same stage. We can then communicate our science in a very accessible and understandable fashion.

The feedback from those who attended the symposium showed an overwhelming enthusiasm and interest in the subject and they really liked the speakers and the topics. One of the participants Derek Plotkowski reminisces, “I wanted to attend a few talks and go back to my work but I stayed on for the whole symposium because it was really interesting and informative. I learned about networking and how to communicate effectively through different modes such as social media, podcasts and blogs.”

The symposium organizing committee, Jacob Nederend, Jaclyn Clark, Jennifer Wilker, Joshua Nasielski, Valerie Craig and myself, are grateful for the support of Prof. Elizabeth Lee and Michael Peppard of the Department of Plant Agriculture for their support and guidance in organizing this event.

This event would not have been successful without the funding provided by our sponsors.

  • Primary Sponsor: Dupont Pioneer
  • Gold Sponsors: Department of Plant Agriculture, Crop Life Canada
  • Silver Sponsors: Ontario Agricultural College, Department of Animal Biosciences
  • Bronze Sponsors: 4-H Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario

From L-R: Shanthanu Krishnakumar, Jacob Nederend, Jaclyn Clark, Jennifer Wilker, Joshua Nasielski and Valerie Craig 

From L-R: Shanthanu Krishnakumar, Jacob Nederend, Jaclyn Clark, Jennifer Wilker, Joshua Nasielski and Valerie Craig.

The Dupont Pioneer Symposia Series is an opportunity for the next generation of agricultural scientists to interact with both the public and private experts through student-driven and organized events at different academic institutions worldwide. It started as one single event in 2008 and has spread to 5 continents, 65 events and more than 10,000 participants. The symposium is free and accessible to all participants and is usually also accessible through webinar.