On Food Strategy by Alex Binkley

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is www.alexbinkley.com. Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...

The Binkley Report

Agriculture numbers that matter for Canadians

Some 98% of farms are family-owned and operated

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
01 February 2014 — A recent presentation by Ron Bonnett, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and a report from Agriculture Canada drive home the importance of growing and producing food to the Canadian economy.

But how many people realize it?

Here’s the agriculture and food industry by the numbers:

• 2.1 million jobs, one in every eight in Canada, are created in the sector
• $101.1 billion in revenue is generated and that’s about 8% of Canada’s GDP
• 10% of household expenditures are on food and non alcoholic beverages, one of the lowest rates of food prices to income in the world
• 98% of Canadian farms are family-owned and operated
• 9 billion people will live on the planet by 2050, compared to about  6.5 billion now
• 70% is how much global agricultural production will have to increase to feed them even as food producing land is lost to urbanization, erosion and climate change
• 6 countries including Canada will be the only nations producing a food surplus by 2020
• 54 the age of the average Canadian farmers, the highest ever, and it’s likely that nearly one-quarter of all farmers will be retiring in the next ten years
• 300% the increase in food production per farmer since 1950


“Worldwide, agriculture and food supply are at a critical juncture,” Bonnett says. “The urgent necessity to maintain a sustainable global food supply has captured the attention of media, governments around the world, the United Nations, consumers, and farmers alike. As a resource rich nation, Canada faces a huge challenge and responsibility, as well as an incredible opportunity.”

To take advantage of that opportunity, Canada has to start thinking long-term about farm and food policies and not be constrained by the usual five-year budgetary cycles of government, he points out.

The current approach, says Bonnett, “is short-sighted and severely limits Canada’s ability to adequately plan for constantly evolving contexts. A holistic and strategic approach to policies and programs for food and agriculture is necessary. The agriculture and agri-food industry have worked together toward finding broader solutions for the value-chain, taking into account everything from promoting the Canadian brand and healthy lifestyles to sustaining economic growth and ecosystems.”

Want to know more about what’s going on down on the farm to keep consumers fed, check out www.agriculturemorethanever.ca. You will be amazed at the enthusiasm and determination of the young women and men who are taking over Canada’s farms and showing producers in other countries how to increase production while preserving arable land for future generations.

The Agriculture Canada report says that during the last few years, the farm and food sector has displayed robust performance generating high farm incomes from strong market receipts and exports. The system has also responded to shifting consumer and societal demands.

“Consumers are seeking more variety, more convenience, and more environmentally friendly and healthier food choices, as well as food that reflects consumer values (like organic and halal products). … Non-durum wheat has been overtaken by canola, and planted soybean area increased between 2006 and 2011.

Prospects for 2014 are looking sunny, says a Bank of Montreal agricultural outlook. Farmers should follow up last year’s good harvest with steady production growth this year that will provide robust exports to emerging markets. “Advances in technology, improvements in management practices and industry consolidation have resulted in sustained productivity growth.

“Innovation has consistently and significantly expanded the industry’s productive capacity, with gross output per hectare having more than quadrupled over the past half-century,” it continued.

“Rapid global demand growth has significantly increased agricultural product prices over the past decade. The strong export growth is being driven largely by rapid population and income growth in emerging markets, which has increased food demand in these countries. This effect is being compounded as emerging-market consumers shift their diets toward higher-value products, such as meat.”

The agriculture federation has been promoting a National Food Strategy, supported by the entire food chains, as the way to develop a long-term plan for handling “the lasting and evolving challenges we face today and those we will face tomorrow.”

The Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute are also working on the food strategy idea, which was backed by all federal political parties in 2011 general election.

“We need to establish the next generation of farmers to keep Canadian food in domestic and international markets, while keeping farms in Canadian hands,” Bonnett says.

“Access to technology; proper infrastructure; facilitating farm transfers; and dealing with increasing farm land values are all means to this end and should be addressed in a food strategy developed and agreed upon by both industry and government.

“If we as a sector and our government address these issues and opportunities in a proper and timely manner, we can create a future that brings our sons and daughters back to the farm, and positions Canada and the Canadian brand as a leader in agri-sector innovation, as well as a provider of solutions for sustainability and the food supply challenge.

“There is a general understanding that the strategy is not just about agriculture – its about our food, fuel and fibre needs,” he added. “And the solution must be comprehensive, taking in environmental, social, and economic concerns.”

It’s quite a story that Canadians need to learn about.