There is no shortage of horticultural-themed stops for the Senate’s agriculture committee to visit in southern Ontario, a hotbed of value-added operations. During the week of March 11, six of the committee’s dozen senators visited the Ontario Food Terminal, Barrie’s Asparagus Farm and Country Market, GoodLeaf Farms, Martin’s Family Fruit Farms, Chudleigh’s apple blossom plant, Willibald Farm Distillery and Wheelbarrow Orchards.
These were part of an ambitious study tour that also visited the University of Guelph, the Elora Dairy Research Facility, Maple Leaf Think FOODS Culinary Centre and others.
“At each of these stops, it was remarkable to see the passion for agriculture, whether it was employers or employees,” says Senator Rob Black, who was appointed February 27, 2018. As the former CEO of the Rural Ontario Institute and a past-president of the Canadian 4-H Council, Black had considerable input into the agenda. “It’s eye-opening for my fellow colleagues.”
The tour is part of a study which launched last year to examine Canada’s value-added food sector. According to the Senate’s April 17, 2018 news release, “A Senate committee is examining how Canadian food processors can take advantage of a golden opportunity to keep exporting quality foods and strengthen a homegrown economic sector at the same time.”
The news release acknowledges, “However, the sector is experiencing challenges, including access to foreign markets, the tendency of Canadian farmers to export their raw products instead of selling to domestic food-processing plants and a labour shortage in Canadian food-processing plants that prevents work from being done in Canada.”
Black confirms that the committee has heard about the barriers and challenges from previous tours to British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec, and now Ontario. They include: multiple layers of regulations from different levels of government, labour shortages, succession planning and the difficulties for early-stage startups. All of these prevent the agri-food
sector from moving the export agenda forward to meet a target of $75 billion by 2025.
Black says that the Senate committee’s report should be published by end of June 2019 when the House of Parliament rises for the summer. It will contain recommendations to the federal government for consideration.