by SUSAN MANN
Agricultural productivity on Canadian farms must be stepped up through new technologies, production and business practices along with research and labour investments, the country’s agriculture ministers say.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says innovation as a key driver of competitiveness on the farm and throughout the entire value chain was a major theme at this week’s federal, provincial, territorial agriculture minister’s meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The two-day meeting wrapped up Friday with a press conference.
“Overall federal, provincial and territorial governments focused on building better collaboration between governments, academia and industry and on investments in innovation, infrastructure, regulatory reform, trade and, of course, market development,” he says.
Ritz says “as governments we’re working to create a climate that rewards investment in R and D (research and development) so that our farmers have the best possible inputs and technology.” With the Growing Forward 2 programs up and running, governments are now focusing on longer-term matters along with trends and strategies that will guide the future success of “this dynamic sector.”
The work of the Agri-Innovators Committee, which was set up in 2012 to give advice to the federal agriculture minister on how to advance innovation, “was highlighted as an example of government and industry collaboration,” Ritz says. The committee’s final report was presented to the agriculture ministers on Thursday and it recommends action in four areas: regulatory reform, investment climate, public/private collaboration and entrepreneurial climate. The report also notes continued industry leadership is crucial in driving innovation so the sector can succeed.
Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal said in a separate interview that during his introductory remarks at the agriculture ministers’ meeting he talked about the province’s position on the need to protect supply management in future trade deals. Leal left the meeting early, returning to Ontario on Thursday for a vote at Queen’s Park on the provincial budget, which was tabled July 14.
Leal says his message on supply management was received “very well. We have a close partnership with the province of Quebec on this file” and the two provinces’ agriculture ministers both reiterated the need for the system’s protection in trade deals.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales says Canadian farm leaders met as part of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture summer board meeting held during the same week as the agriculture ministers’ meeting in Winnipeg. The federation also hosted a roundtable meeting and reception for the agriculture ministers Wednesday. Farm leaders don’t attend the agriculture ministers’ meeting.
At the roundtable meeting, farm leaders talked about working towards 2050 and feeding a global population of nine billion people, he says.
Matters important to Ontario’s farmers as they work to provide food for the global population include the need for more rail transportation as “we’ve lost a lot of that” and maintaining the province’s current ports “so that we can get out the bulk crops that we have,” he says, noting farmers also need affordable energy infrastructure, training for farm workers and managers and access to water. “Going forward and looking at all the issues around climate change, water is going to be a key component” both for growers and for food processors.
Farm leaders also told agriculture ministers business risk management programs are important to them to deal with forces they can’t control, such as weather and market situations, because “if farmers can’t survive financially then what’s the worry about feeding the world,” Wales says. BF