By Nathan Stevens
There are some industry leaders that would argue that one of the greatest opportunities for farmers in the next 20 years will be the development of the bio-products sector. At a recent information session held by the Wellington district of the CFFO, Gord Surgeoner of Ontario Agri-food Technologies shared some his insights into the tremendous opportunities that Ontario agriculture has the potential to seize in the very near future.
Before delving into the new opportunities for farmers, Surgeoner assessed the current situation in the food industry. The food industry in North America is growing at the very slow rate of one per cent per year. Moreover, growth in one area of agriculture related to food usually comes at the expense of another type of commodity production. For example, if more chicken is consumed, it may mean that less pork or beef is consumed. In essence, one commodity cannot grow substantially without cannibalizing another part of the industry.
Surgeoner argued that the key for future growth in demand for agricultural products is in developing bio-products in an era of rising fuel costs. When confronted with the assertion by some that we are running out of oil, he adds “at what price?” Canadians can see this most clearly with the development of the Alberta oil sands and offshore drilling in Atlantic Canada, projects that would have been deemed way too costly 50 years ago.
At the right price for oil, the viability of bio-based plastics as a replacement for petroleum based projects becomes very favourable. The possibilities are phenomenal. Just a few examples include foam seating and roof panels for cars, and containers of all shapes and sizes for storing materials and supplies.
This is not to say that developing these industries and technologies isn’t without potential stumbling blocks or unanswered questions. For example, does a soy-based foam cushion smell funny in 40 degree heat? If it doesn’t, then that is great. If it does, then time and energy needs to be poured into finding a solution to the issue.
A whole new world of opportunities is opening up for farmers in this province. There is an opportunity for Ontario farmers to supply renewable bio-products to North America and the world. With the right leadership in place and the right support at the right time, Ontario can be a leader in this emerging industry.
Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. It can be heard weekly on CKNX Wingham and CFCO Chatham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. The CFFO is supported by 4,200 farm families across Ontario