By Dave Harrison
Agriculture needs all the help it can get. In Ontario, one municipality in particular has taken a proactive role in assisting greenhouse growers throughout the province gain new customers.
In an earlier career incarnation, I took part in a chamber of commerce panel discussion examining the relationship between media and the government. Present were representatives of the local radio station, a TV reporter who covered the region, the cable TV station manager, yours truly as a weekly newspaper editor, and an editor of an even smaller community newspaper. It was the latter who had the quote of the evening when he said, to a near standing ovation: “The role of the media is to attack government wherever it rears its ugly head.”
Of course, he was being facetious. (In a later and unrelated conversation, he explained his business philosophy. He had retired rather well off from an earlier career. For tax reasons I couldn’t fathom, he needed an investment that wouldn’t make money. He wisely chose publishing and bought a small newspaper. It was soon making money. Undaunted, and still needing something to write off, he opened a travel agency. This plan, too, backfired. Apparently, he couldn’t fail in business, even if he tried.)
But the point he was making at the chamber event was that the media should closely scrutinize politicians and their decisions. It was the noted CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965) who once said: “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
Defining what we want out of government is the new Canadian pastime. Everyone has different priorities. As someone who has passed the half-century mark, I want a government that’s kind to seniors and those in the on-deck circle.
But what do farmers want from government? Judging by news stories and association annual reports, government largely falls short of their expectations. Most farmers, it’s fair to say, don’t believe anyone is listening to them.
But there are exceptions. The Region of Niagara is probably the most responsive level of government in Canada with respect to the greenhouse sector. The Niagara Economic Development Corporation (NEDC) has worked diligently to boost the sector. Tapping into funding sources within the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and/or The Ontario Greenhouse Alliance, and its own budgets, it’s provided innovative marketing services for the greenhouse floriculture sector across the province.
Some recent examples include:
• Production of a three-minute DVD and an eight-page brochure with the theme, ‘Profit with Ontario.’ Both are directed to U.S. buyers. “Ontario greenhouse growers are leading the way in finding innovative solutions to increase the variety, diversity and quality of floriculture products,” notes the brochure. “They are setting new standards of excellence in the application of new growing, harvesting and distribution technologies. In doing so, they continue to enhance Ontario’s reputation as one of the most efficient and productive floral greenhouse clusters in North America.”
• Last year, NEDC coordinated trade missions by two groups (one in the spring, the other in the fall) of U.S. wholesale florists. Feedback was quite positive. “The members felt the trip was very worthwhile and that new programs should be developed by the International Floral Distributors that would help them increase their sales of products from Ontario,” said IFD executive director Jeff Lanman following the spring tour.
• NEDC publishes the increasingly popular Ontario Greenhouse Growers’ Directory and Buyer’s Guide, which includes contact information and product details for 185 Ontario growers and wholesale florists. Some 7,500 copies will be distributed throughout North America. Just as important to note: since its debut in 1994, this directory has raised $150,000 to donate towards research and education, benefiting growers across Canada.
There is much to admire about the way Niagara has assisted the greenhouse sector. Indeed, there is much all levels of government can learn from them. Farmers don’t want a handout; they only want a helping hand, especially with marketing support.