From the Editor: May 2012
By Dave Harrison
Food in Canada remains a bargain. That’s the good news.
Food in Canada remains a bargain. That’s the good news. The bad news is that such affordability also means farmgate prices are not rising; we’ve had Food Freedom Day on Feb. 12 since 2009.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture says that Canadians earned enough income by Feb. 12 to pay their grocery bill for the entire year. They will have spent about 11.8 per cent of this year’s disposable income on food. Compare that with France (13.5 per cent) and Japan (14.2 per cent).
Of the 11.8 per cent Canadians pay for food overall, farmers continue to take only a very small percentage of the food dollar. This is the wake-up call. Within the first three weeks of the year, notes CFA president Ron Bonnett, an average consumer has earned enough income to pay the farmers’ share of the food dollar. “This is a common story for many players along the value chain – the share they get does not adequately compensate their costs,” Bonnett explains. “The CFA strongly believes all stakeholders would benefit from a National Food Strategy. A plan to optimize our food system would strengthen agricultural businesses, create long-term value and make significant contributions to society.”
In a recent Bank of Montreal poll, some 86 per cent of Canadians said it was important or very important that they purchase Canadian-produced food.
A sustainable agri-food industry is essential in Canada. For one thing, it makes economic sense. About nine per cent of Canada’s GDP is generated within the food system. Some 2.4 million jobs are tied to the sector.
The National Food Strategy says farming and food proces-sing in Canada needs more attention. “In spite of the food sector’s contribution to a healthy economy, the bottom line of many producers and processors of food remains low. Farm incomes have suffered a roller-coaster ride that includes nominal or negative farm income.
Food processing capacity has witnessed an exodus from Canada. More of our food is imported in spite of our abundance of land and water, our entrepreneurial spirit, access to technology and human capacity – all of which should facilitate expansion of our food production and processing capacity.”
A key plank in the National Food Strategy notes that participants in the food chain should have a reasonable and equal opportunity to prosper.
Greenhouse vegetables would be major winners under such a plan, as they can be grown domestically year-round. Having governments and their agencies facilitate more trigen projects – electricity onto the grid, waste heat and CO2 into the greenhouse – would be an example of improved economic sustainability.
If farmgate prices don’t rise sufficiently, growers must rely on improved efficiencies and productivity to counter low prices. That requires breakthroughs in breeding and more research in cutting costs and increasing yields. Investing in research has always been important, but the slim margins of horticulture and its flat-lining prices will require even more attention over the next few years.
Let’s ensure Food Freedom Day is truly something to be celebrated mutually by consumers and by those producing the food.