by SUSAN MANN
A committee looking at ways the province could increase the agri-food sector’s growth has recommended Ontario’s government and agricultural industry beef up their promotion of the sector. But one provincial farm leader is unconvinced it’s up to government to sell the province’s agricultural products.
Lorne Small, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, says “I would like to see more emphasis on individual entrepreneurs and business people having a responsibility to grow their businesses as well.”
Small says the role of government is to ensure the rules and regulations governing the industry aren’t creating obstacles. “But at some point we have to lean on the industry, including primary producers, to be innovative and grow that business and look to exports rather than just selling to your neighbour. I’m not a real enthusiast of insisting the government should do all of this for us.”
Small made the comments in response to Wednesday’s release of the Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee’s report recommending increased government and industry promotion of Ontario’s agri-food sector in Canada and internationally. The report, which contained seven recommendations, was released at the Premier’s Summit on Agri-Food held at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Other recommendations identified the need for Ontario to engage in stronger advocacy of the food processing sector, particularly at the federal level, and for the agriculture ministry to consider implementing programs to address the needs of small and medium-sized businesses.
Committee’s recommendations ‘right on’ says Ontario’s agriculture minister
by SUSAN MANN
Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal says he plans to implement the Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee’s recommendations very quickly.
photo: Jeff Leal
The committee’s recommendations are “right on,” he says. “I think the seven recommendations will provide the foundation and drive to grow the agri-food sector in the province of Ontario.”
Leal says he considers all seven recommendations to be priorities. “Our operational plan is to move forward on all seven.” But one recommendation that’s particularly important is the one talking about dealing with the federal government “and to really ask them to work with us in championing the importance of the food processing sector in the Canadian economy.”
The committee recommended the government and agri-food industry champion the importance of the food processing industry’s contribution to job and investment growth at the federal, provincial, territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting and to make it a priority for Growing Forward 3, the next national/provincial agricultural policy framework to be implemented when the current five-year agreement expires in 2018.
Farmers have a key role to play in ensuring the province meets the premier’s growth targets, Leal says. “Growth starts at the primary production level.” BF
Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal appointed the eight-person committee last year to advise him on how to support the industry in meeting Premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2013 challenge to create 120,000 new jobs and double the agri-food sector’s annual growth rate by 2020. The committee was co-chaired by Amy Cronin, who’s also chair of Ontario Pork’s board, and deputy agriculture minister Deb Stark.
“Agriculture and food production are this province’s founding industries and they continue to be one of its greatest economic contributors,” the committee says in its report.
The committee notes the industry is on its way to meeting the challenge. In 2014, Ontario agri-food exports totaled $12.5 million, up 5.5 per cent over 2013. Agri-food sector jobs in 2014 were at 781,639, an increase of 2.2 per cent over 2013.
Small says the increases surprised and encouraged him. “You hear about the closing of food processing plants and you sort of assume that we’re going down hill,” he notes. “Then you realize that there’s a whole new wave of good processing and food entrepreneurs that are replacing the old dinosaur companies.”
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Don McCabe was also pleased by the numbers. “It’s always good to see growth. That’s higher than some other sectors are experiencing so I guess we must be doing something right.”
McCabe says the committee’s recommendations “will help us move the industry forward towards the premier’s agri-food targets.”
Karen Eatwell, president of the National Farmers Union – Ontario and Region 3 coordinator, says the numbers didn’t surprise her. She considers the growth number for exports to be healthy but the jobs number increase could have been higher.
Still, “it’s nice to see they (the exports and jobs numbers) are increasing and not decreasing,” she notes.
There are so many jobs related to agriculture “so I thought it (the jobs number) might have been higher,” she explains.
Eatwell says the recommendations were “well thought out. I do like the way they talked about championing Ontario as a top agri-food business jurisdiction.”
The committee talked about how the industry, including farms and farm suppliers, must unite to support the food processing industry, and Eatwell notes that’s important. “You need the whole chain to be viable and championing the importance of food processing here in Ontario.” BF