Agriculture Canada releases 2020-21 plan

Improving international trade and introducing the new food policy highlight Agriculture Canada’s plans for the next year.

In its 2020-21 plan, which sets priorities for the upcoming year, Agriculture Canada says it will, “continue to assist the sector to take advantage of market opportunities and maintain or improve access to international markets, including through the negotiation and implementation of trade agreements, promoting Canadian agri-food products, and by resolving or mitigating market barriers.”

A few potential trade deals are highlighted within the documents, developed before the pandemic crisis and made public in March.

The federal government is negotiating with the MERCOSUR block of countries, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Another trade deal in the works involves the so-called Pacific Alliance, made up of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The Agriculture Canada document also mentions trade initiatives involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The governing Liberal party has committed to increase and diversify agriculture and agri-food exports to reach its target of $75 billion in exports for the sector by 2025.

Agriculture Canada noted “increasing protectionism in other countries” that has led to the introduction of tariffs or non-tariff trade barriers impacting producers’ economic outlooks, but said in its planning documents it will be, “advocating for a predictable and stable trade environment” to help to mitigate these risks.

Changes to how Agriculture Canada consults with players across the value chain will also be coming in the next year.

Value Chain Roundtables, used as a key component of consultation for Agriculture Canada, will move from being commodity specific to more thematic-based groups.

“The department will establish and update sector-specific and thematic tables to address issues in the sector and will formalize opportunities for engagement through a modernized model,” the documents state.

The new roundtable model will also “include opportunities for engaging women, Indigenous peoples, and youth,” it says.

As part of that work, during the next five years, Agriculture Canada plans to develop a strategy to offer more “gender-based analysis” to address gender gaps across the agri-food value chain.

Gender-based analysis is a theme throughout the document, as Agriculture Canada also commits to applying it to all trade agreements and “is exploring the use of targeted calls for program applications to encourage proposals related to under-represented groups working in the sector.”

Aimed at “creating a more co-ordinated food systems-based approach to food-related opportunities and challenges in Canada,” the Food Policy for Canada will also be implemented over the next year, aided by $134 million in funding.

First launched in 2019, Agriculture Canada plans to move the policy forward by helping Canadian communities access healthy food, make Canadian food a top choice domestically and internationally, support food security in remote communities and reduce food waste.

Agriculture Canada will be establishing an advisory council on the food policy, with representatives from the agri-food industry, civil society and academia.

Those efforts include Agriculture Canada plans to establish the long-awaited “Buy Canadian” promotion campaign, which will include promotional products to advertise Canada’s food system at home and abroad.

A food waste reduction initiative, which will include a fund to “seek innovative solutions to reduce food loss and waste” will be implemented as well.

Other measures are included in Agriculture Canada’s 2020-21 plans, including “possible changes to the AgriStability program.”

Calls for changes to business risk management programs have long been in the works, highlighted by an Agriculture Canada review of the available programs completed in 2018. It’s expected an announcement on changes to the programs is coming sometime this summer, although no mention of that is made within the department’s planning documents.

Agriculture Canada is expecting to “explore experimental approaches to program delivery that could provide data and knowledge leading to the growth of domestic markets and the diversification of export markets.”

Those efforts will include a “challenge fund” for innovations in food processing, grocery retail and food service.

“Challenges offer funding and other resources to help global innovators put their ideas into action and deliver meaningful results to Canadians,” the document says.

Agriculture Canada is planning to shift the way agri-environmental research is conducted, according to its plans, by introducing a “Living Laboratories Initiative” that is using $10 million to “advance agricultural discovery science and innovation.”

The Living Laboratories Initiative will fund collaborative research between farmers and scientists that develops, tests and monitors new practices in a real farm context. Two of five sites in the works have been in operation since April 2019.

A project in Manitoba is focusing on climate change, soil health, water health and biodiversity while dozens of people and organizations are involved in a project on Prince Edward Island focusing on subjects like water management and fertilizer use. Sites in Quebec and Ontario are being set up this year, with British Columbia establishing a Living Laboratory in 2021.

“The result will be more practical technologies and sustainable farming practices that can be adopted more quickly by Canadian farmers,” says Agriculture Canada.

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