By Nathan Stevens
August 10, 2012
The agriculture sector is one that has the potential to benefit from a focus on productivity. This is the second in a series of commentaries raising questions about the direction of agriculture policy in Ontario and Canada. In the second part of this commentary series, I want to talk about the potential of a productivity-oriented policy agenda. In other parts of the commentary series, I will focus on specific aspects of thriving in the global marketplace and the critical need for sustainability.
At the core of a productivity-oriented agenda is the need to recognize the potential to be gained from an improved research program. This does not necessarily have to be new hi-tech gadgetry, although that can and should be part of the program. But we also need to consider the impact that a management improvement can make for an entire sector. For example, research that improves the timing of herbicide application such that the number of applications needed is reduced from two to a single application to achieve maximum efficiency results in substantial cost savings for all conventional producers each and every year.
If one moves way outside the traditional box, one can consider the possibility of big projects. There are areas in Ontario which could be irrigated to improve productivity. California developed two huge water diversion projects many decades ago and became the fruit basket of America. However, it should be acknowledged that there are serious water issues facing California today, and that any such efforts needs to seriously consider sustainability issues. However, in a world with limited resources, maximizing our ability to produce crops for every drop of water used needs to be considered to meet long-term needs.
A productivity agenda needs to extend beyond a focus on primary agriculture. Ontario has the second largest food manufacturing hub in North America, yet we lack canning facilities for tender fruit production. This reduces the close-to-home market potential for farmers in Ontario. The Ontario agri-food sector cannot compete based on low-cost labour, so we need to focus on maximizing the efficiency of the infrastructure that brings product in and the technology used to process it.
A productivity focused agenda has the potential to set the stage for farmers in Ontario for the long-term. A research-focused agenda with big picture visioning for the entire sector can position Ontario farmers and processors in the long-term to compete on the world stage. Ontario has top-notch farmers, a large food processing hub and with a clear strategy it can be world leader in food production.
Nathan Stevens is the Interim Manager and Director of Policy Development for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston and in Brantford and Woodstock. It is also found on the CFFO website:www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.