Ag urged to pave way for growth after COVID

Industry executive argues opportunities are vast, but governments must be pressed to take steps to make them possible

Agriculture and food can become one of the foundations of Canada’s post-pandemic economy, says a long-time leader in the canola and protein industries.

However, people in agriculture need to stand up now so governments and economic leaders provide the industry with what it needs to keep growing and move higher.

“As we rebuild the economy, let’s make sure we’re a part of that,” David Dzisiak, former Canola Council of Canada chair, long-time agricultural bioscience leader and current chief operating officer of the plant protein company Botaneco, said in an interview.

“We can be a leading participant. Let’s get involved. Let’s get our hand up. Let’s build the understanding and awareness.”

Dzisiak believes Canada has an underdeveloped value-added processing industry, but this could change and allow the country to multiply the value of its basic agricultural commodity production industries, including farming.

But to achieve that growth, Canada needs to lessen the regulatory burden on development, eliminate trade- and investment-reducing interprovincial barriers and focus investment on growth industries of the future, such as aquaculture.

“A long-term national approach that focuses on value-added ingredients will help Canada build on its reputation as a stable, safe and nutritious food supplier,” Dzisiak wrote in a paper for TheFutureEconomy.ca.

“The Canadian government and investors should support product innovation in the agriculture industry.”

Dzisiak thinks the COVID-19 shock to the Canadian and global food systems presents opportunities that can be exploited:

  • Greater emphasis on local food supplies and domestic food chains, helping vegetable and fruit producers and others in industries currently dominated by imports.
  • Opportunities in export markets that will place greater emphasis on trusted and reliable suppliers such as Canada.
  • An ability to further improve Canada’s role as a lowest-cost global food producer in commodities such as hogs and canola.

While these ideas are nothing new in Canadian agriculture, Dzisiak said now is the time to clear roadblocks and create the conditions for more value-added production to occur.

He thinks aquaculture is an example of what’s currently wrong and where an industry could achieve great growth if given the opportunity.

“Aquaculture has a very high global growth forecast and Canada should be a leading participant, but we are not,” Dzisiak wrote.

“Our plant protein initiatives could also give us an advantage in sustainable feed supply and cost.

“Maybe it is time to move aquaculture to the agriculture department and view it as an industry for sustainable economic growth and job creation rather than an environmental field. Other countries do this successfully. Why can’t Canada?”

Dzisiak has high praise for Protein Industries Canada, with which he is a board member and was instrumental in founding. PIC takes federal research and development money and matches it with private projects that appear likely to commercially develop plant protein products.

“Protein Industries Canada can help make people aware of opportunities, and it should become a good example of our country focusing on a goal and sticking to it.”

Most important for Dzisiak is seeing a new class of food development entrepreneur arise.

“We need to build more comprehensive awareness around private equity pools so that they understand that agriculture is a great industry to invest in,” Dzisiak wrote.

“Since Canada has a global reach, we are talking about an industry that can generate tens of billions of dollars of commerce. It is a growth industry and we have very few of those.”

In an interview, Dzisiak said he wrote his article to try to get people in food and agriculture to help raise awareness of the industry as a source of future growth, and to help government realize the growth that is possible if it helps establish the right conditions.

“We need to make sure this is on the agenda, that it’s contemplated,” said Dzisiak.

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