Canadian agriculture falling behind world: report

Canada’s farm and food industry must become more competitive, less government-dependent and more innovative if it is keep up with world market challenges, says a new research report.

The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, funded by industry and Agriculture Canada and housed in an Agriculture Canada building in Ottawa, said in an extensive Feb. 7 report that Canadian agriculture is falling behind.

It called for a restructuring of food policy, an emphasis on trade, a reduction in farmer business risk management support, more investment in research and innovation and a closer connection between food policy and the need for healthier food choices in the Canadian market.

“Canada is not realizing the full potential of a major strategic asset, the country’s agri-food sector,” said the report. “The consequences of falling profitability, lost opportunity and declining relevance are impairing the nation’s agri-food industry. Current policies and practices across the sector and fear of changing the status quo are holding Canada back.”

The report recommends a gradual reduction in farm support program funding, calling it an “efficiency gain in the design and delivery” of business risk management programs, reaching a 50 percent reduction in spending by 2023. This, it said, would allow more than double the investment in innovation.

Meanwhile, the goal should be to almost double the value of agri-food exports to $75 billion by 2025, increase domestic self-sufficiency from 68 percent now to 75 percent and to offset declining program support by increasing industry dependence on producing biomaterial and biofuel.

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As CAPI released its report after close to two years of workshops and consultation, chair Gaetan Lussier said the goal is to stimulate reaction from and thinking among food industry sectors.

He said the report is meant to be a wake-up call to the Canadian industry, which is seeing its position in world trade eroded by booming agriculture economies in China, Brazil and India.

“Canada’s agri-food industry has the natural and human resources to do much better, yet Canada risks sleeping right through its greatest potential,” said a CAPI statement.

The report likely will be a topic of conversation at farm organization meetings this winter as well as when federal and provincial agriculture ministers meet in Toronto Feb. 11 for a discussion on the design of the next generation of farm support programs.

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