On October 5th, the Sault Ste Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC), in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released the report Fertile Ground: Growing the Competitiveness of Ontario’s Agri-food Sector, which presents a series of recommendations designed to address barriers to the competitiveness of the agri-food sector in the province. As one of the most significant economic drivers in the province, the agri-food industry employs 1 in 9 Ontarians and represents $36.4 billion in GDP.
Eager to build on the strengths of this sector, in 2013 Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne challenged the agri-food industry to double its annual growth rate and create 120,000 jobs by 2020. However, farmers and food processors’ ability to meet this 2020 target continue to be challenged by an overly prescriptive regulatory environment. Released during Ontario Agricultural Week, the Fertile Ground report presents recommendations to business and government designed to enhance the economic environment in which agribusinesses currently operate.
“In cities and regions across the province, agri-food stakeholders have cited regulatory pressures as a significant barrier to growing their competitiveness,” said Rory Ring, Chief Executive Officer of the SSMCOC. “In fact, the food processing component of the Ontario government’s Red Tape Challenge has identified over 170 regulations that need to be updated. While this government initiative begins an important discussion, continued efforts need to take place to ensure that these industries are able to continue to create jobs and grow the economy.”
The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce points to the success of local producers like Lock City Dairies and to the popularity of local farmers markets and the Mill Market as proof that the agribusiness sector is very much alive in Sault Ste. Marie. It also points to the recent news that the management of Quattro Vinotecca Restaurant is funding operations at its own Thessalon farm as a means of bringing its vision of a farm-to-table menu to reality, as an exciting leap forward in the way local food service businesses are now thinking. The Chamber maintains that the government needs to ensure that the regulations that it is placing on agribusiness allows for these types of growth opportunities and innovations for small and medium sized suppliers.
Among the 15 recommendations presented in the report, the Ontario Chamber and network identifies the following three as priorities to be addressed in the short term:
1. Work with industry and all levels of government to establish a regulatory “concierge service” to assist industry in understanding, navigating and achieving compliance with relevant regulatory requirements.
2. Publicly release economic impact assessments of policy initiatives that could affect the agri-food sector to ensure decision-making is evidence-based, participatory, unbiased and transparent.
3. Work with industry and post-secondary institutions to ensure that program offerings remain responsive to the needs of agricultural producers and processors.
“From farm to table, all aspects of the agri-food sector are interconnected. The health and viability of the entire industry depends on the ability of producers and processors to compete on a level playing field,” said Allan O’Dette, President & CEO of the OCC. “In 2015, Ontario agri-food trade exceeded $14 billion. The Province must strive to do its part to enable the success of Ontario’s agri-food sector.”
In order to attract, retain and grow agribusiness, the SSMCOC and the provincial Chamber network is looking for government to work collaboratively with the agri-food sector to set goals for Agriculture Week 2017 that support the industry in meeting the Premier’s Agri-food Challenge. The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the OCC, is committed to working with government and agribusinesses to enhance the competitiveness of this sector.
The report can be read HERE.