By Nathan Stevens
August 17, 2012
The agricultural sector is one that is poised for change. This is the third in a series of commentaries raising questions about the direction of agriculture policy in Ontario and Canada. The first two parts of this series focused on the fundamentals that are pointing towards change and the need to focus on productivity. In the other parts of the commentary series, I will focus on the critical need for sustainability. Today I will focus on thriving in a global marketplace, whether selling at home or abroad.
There are many forces at work that will deeply impact the future of Ontario farmers. Resource scarcity and technology will be essential to future success. Innovation and change in other parts of the world are challenges that Ontario farmers will face regardless of whether they are establishing markets at home or for export.
Resource scarcity will present challenges and opportunities. There are some experts that argue that the era of globalization will slow and perhaps even reverse as transportation costs mount. However, need drives innovation, and the global need for food will continue to rise. Ontario can position itself strongly if the sector is willing to focus on future opportunities.
Resource scarcity is an opportunity as well. In the years ahead, water will be a greater factor than land or energy costs, if it is not already. Ontario has a major strategic advantage in water availability for food production, but we need to ensure that total water usage throughout the economy and all of society is balanced to be sustainable. Ontario requires an integrated water plan that improves irrigation and drainage on the farm and prioritizes overall water use for food production where it is essential to maintain the entire value chain.
Technology and innovation will be essential regardless of whether a farm is import or export oriented, large or small. Farmers need infrastructure efficiency, regardless of whether they are exporting high quality pork cuts to Japan, or trying to fill a local market, as their competitors will be looking to take that opportunity for themselves if they can. Another great technology example is how social media has opened new ways to connect with consumers.
For Ontario farmers to thrive in the global marketplace in the years ahead requires serious consideration of our assets as an industry. Our policy needs to be geared to overcome the challenges and maximize our ability to seize opportunities. Ontario has skilled farmers, plentiful water, and a robust processing sector and with the right policy direction the sector can grow and prosper in a competitive global marketplace.
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.