By Dave Harrison
We’ve increasingly noticed that we’re increasingly being noticed by politicians across the country. And what they’ve noticed is the considerable economic impact and potential by this sector. “Greenhouse agriculture in Ontario has been a quiet engine for growth,” noted one industry leader. There are many challenges facing the industry. Having friends in high places who understand those issues and the possible remedies is important.
Leona Dombrowsky, Doug Horner, Mike deJong, Dean Allison and David Sweet may not yet be household names in Canadian greenhouse industry circles, but they should be.
Well, them, along with hundreds of their colleagues in Parliament and the various legislative assemblies.
By way of introduction, Leona Dombrowsky is Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs with the Ontario government. She was guest speaker at the annual general meeting of The Ontario Greenhouse Alliance (TOGA), and spoke glowingly of the growth of the industry in the province, its technical innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Her cabinet colleagues, she noted, are well aware of the industry’s initiatives on energy issues and food safety programs, among others. (And it doesn’t hurt that her family has a showpiece garden, sometimes a prize-winner in local gardening contests. However, the credit for that goes to her husband and his green thumb. “I only take credit,” she quipped, “for choosing the colours.”)
Doug Horner is Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. During his keynote address during last fall’s Alberta Hort Congress, he noted the major technological investments frequently demonstrated by growers in the province, including “a major expansion that took place with $10 million invested in the building of new greenhouses in southern Alberta.”
Mike deJong, the B.C. Minister of Labour and Citizens’ Services, attended open houses hosted by growers last fall and stressed the importance of the industry within the provincial economy.
Dean Allison and David Sweet are Members of Parliament representing neighbouring greenhouse growing communities in the Niagara region. They hosted a round table discussion with about 25 local growers shortly after the federal election. “Today’s round table meeting will help continue our dialogue with flower growers in my riding, with the objective of reaching a consensus on important issues that can be brought forward to our new Conservative government,” said Allison. Sweet echoed that sentiment, and said he hoped to “raise the profile of the important floriculture industry in my riding.”
They noted that the local industry, which includes 200 flower growers and an annual farmgate value of some $232 million, is grappling with a higher dollar, rising energy costs, and government red tape. Much of the discussion focused on streamlining Canadian government pesticide regulations, alternative sources of energy, as well as potential solutions for border delays.
Dr. Irwin Smith, executive director of Flowers Canada Growers and Flowers Canada Ontario, offered high praise to the MPs and their efforts “to meet with us and better understand issues facing our industry.”
It should be a given that politicians will only have our best interests at heart with legislative measures. And I’m sure they do, but they have to know our interests inside and out, and that’s where our sector has often fallen short over the years.
TOGA is a good example of industry co-operation – in this case, flower and vegetable growers – speaking with a strong, coordinated voice in working with government. Its most recent achievement is a comprehensive economic impact study. The report Greenhouses Grow Ontario showed the industry contributes, directly and indirectly, just shy of $4 billion annually to the Ontario economy. As measured by the value of farmgate receipts over the past 10 years, greenhouse production is the fastest growing segment of agriculture in Ontario.
“Greenhouse agriculture in Ontario has been a quiet engine for growth,” said TOGA chairperson Cole Cacciavillani, a Leamington grower. “Not many people in Ontario realize how significant our industry is.”
Politicians are getting the message. They have a better understanding of the issues facing growers. But more importantly, they’re seeking to understand those challenges and the possible remedies. Government policies should help, not hinder. This growing recognition by politicians of the industry’s contributions and challenges should ensure the former, and prevent the latter.