Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

October 16, 2002

Major support unveiled for new communication initiative

Plans to establish Canada’s first specialized agricultural communication program at the University of Guelph were announced in Guelph Tuesday, backed by two $100,000-commitments from industry supporters.

Producer organization Ontario Pork and seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred Limited announced they’re getting behind the new agricultural communication initiative, which will train students and others how to communicate about the agri-food industry in an informed, balanced way.

“Our industry is growing increasingly complex, accelerating the need to develop effective communicators who can make complicated issues such as the various perspectives on biotechnology or nutrient management more understandable to the Canadian public,” says Art Stirling, government and industry affairs manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont subsidiary. “The vision of this initiative is to develop the next generation of journalists and communicators, and build greater capacity within the current generation, to better connect a mostly urban audience with modern agricultural production and the needs of rural communities.”

Clare Schlegel, chair of Ontario Pork, says informed, balanced reporting in the media is important for agriculture. “This communication initiative will give students, as future journalists and communication professionals, the opportunity to learn about our industry,” he says. “That’s why Ontario’s pork producers are proud to support this project.” Ontario Pork’s support was assisted with a grant from the Agricultural Adaptation Council.

University of Guelph Vice-President of Research, Alan Wildeman underlined the University’s pride in having a student-driven agricultural communication program at Guelph, one of Canada’s most research-intensive universities. He noted how students in the existing agricultural communication program and in the Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge (SPARK) program – which began at Guelph and is now at 20 other Canadian universities – have been successful in effectively communicating life sciences research to the public, partners and stakeholders.

“Students and industry sponsors supporting the student-writing program deserve the credit for moving this initiative forward to where it is today – at the forefront of agricultural communication education,” says Wildeman. “And with this support today we applaud our industry partners who are demonstrating a commitment to the future of a new agri-food communication program whose goal is to produce graduates who will communicate about agri-food issues in an accurate, balanced and consumer-sensitive manner.”

The agricultural communication initiative has two parts. The first is Canada’s only university-degree program in agricultural communication, which will be a unique blend of communications and agriculture. It will emphasize skills development, combining technical skills in journalism, marketing, public relations, electronic communications and leadership with a strong agricultural foundation in economics, statistics and rural extension, and the science of plants, animals, soil and the environment.

The working model for the degree calls for three years of training at the University of Guelph and one year in a college journalism program with state-of-the-art technical facilities.

“When students graduate, they’ll be equipped with employable and pertinent communication abilities, and know how to use them,” says program director Owen Roberts, agricultural communication instructor.

The second part of the initiative is the creation of a professional development centre for industry communicators. It will facilitate professional development activities such as writing, editing and electronic communication workshops, both in-class and through open learning/distance education.

Through the centre, new opportunities will be identified for connecting students and employers – called “experiential education,” similar to co-op positions – so students can receive credit for combining learning activities with skills development. Agricultural communication students will be an integral part of the centre, carrying out industry-sponsored communication projects (such as surveys, and publication writing and production) and helping facilitate professional development activities.

“We are a widely scattered community of writers and journalists who, until now, haven’t really had a central place to learn our craft, develop and improve our skills at the same time that we learned more about agriculture,” says Clare Stanfield of Calgary, president of the 330-member Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation. “The Guelph initiative will raise the talent bar and will be a big step in advancing the professionalism of our industry.”

Plans call for the initiative to begin in September 2004.

For more information, contact:
Owen Roberts, University of Guelph, 519-824-4120 Ext. 8278
Art Stirling, Pioneer Hi-Bred Limited, 519-352-6350, Ext. 6724
Keith Robbins, Ontario Pork, 519-767-4600
Clare Stanfield, AdCulture, 403-685-0938

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