Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee Advice to Minister Leal

The Honourable Jeff Leal
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
11th Floor
77 Grenville Street
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1B3

October 27, 2015

Dear Minister:

Ontario's diverse and complex agri-food sector, which links together suppliers, producers, processors, retailers and food service, is a significant contributor to the economic well-being and social fabric of this province. Understanding this, in 2013 Premier Wynne - who at the time also served as Minister of Agriculture and Food - issued a challenge to the Ontario agri-food industry. This was a call to double the annual rate of economic growth in the agri-food sector and create an additional 120,000 new jobs by 2020.

Shortly after the 2014 Premier's Summit on Agri-Food, we were asked by you, Minister, as the Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee, to provide you with advice on how best to support industry in meeting the Premier's Challenge. Specifically, you asked us to develop meaningful, targeted, evidence-based actions, which government, industry and other partners will use to spur domestic and international market growth and guide the development of a provincial system to accurately measure future growth of Ontario's agri-food sector.

Minister, the Committee is confident Ontario can build its competitive advantage as a long-term global leader in food production for domestic and international consumption. Taking advantage of opportunities through recent trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will support this work. Industry leadership, responsive government programming, and supportive regulatory reforms are critical to increasing the competitiveness of Ontario's agri-food businesses and achieving the Premier's Challenge. Enhancing competitiveness is a pre-condition to success in growing domestic markets and exports.

We also believe that it is critical that the Ministry, in the design and development of future programming, such as Growing Forward 3, continue its focus on supporting evidence-based growth opportunities.

Current data indicates that industry is on its way to meeting the Premier's Challenge of creating 120,000 new jobs and doubling the agri-food sector's annual growth rate by 2020:

  • Ontario agri-food exports for 2014 totalled $12.5 billion, an increase of 5.5 per cent over 2013.
  • Ontario agri-food jobs for 2014 totalled 781,639, an increase of 2.2 per cent over 2013.

With these thoughts in mind, the following summarizes the committee's recommendations for your consideration, which we suggest be achieved through metrics determined by the end of 2015:

  1. Understanding a business' competitive position requires data, analysis and benchmarking. Future investments, innovation and automation in the agri-food sector will create opportunities for growth along the value chain and encourage an increase of higher value jobs.

    To support the Premier's Challenge, the Agri-Food Scorecard was developed. It established high-level targets, facilitates the identification of trends and enables the measurement of progress over time. To build on the work of the Agri-Food Scorecard, we recommend that the Ministry work with industry organizations to build sub-sector measurement systems and create indicators that measure progress towards increasing the competitiveness of a sector relative to competitive and comparable jurisdictions. Businesses will also be able to benchmark themselves against other businesses in their industry.
  2. Canada's food processing industry is primarily located within Ontario, accounting for 41% of the total Canadian GDP in food processing and 37% of Canada's employment in food processing in 2014.

    We recommend that Ontario and industry partner to champion the importance of food processing (e.g. jobs and investment) at the Agriculture Ministers' Federal/Provincial Table, and make it one of the priority areas for Growing Forward 3. This will strengthen the call to recognize Ontario's agri-food sector's value and importance to the Canadian economy.
  3. Ontario is a great place to do business, especially in the agri-food sector. Ontario offers access to: fresh water supplies, logistics, the North American food supply chain and numerous other benefits. Ontario needs to better promote and target the competitive business environment it offers to prospective and current agri-food businesses. We recommend that you, Minister, and the ministry enhance activities to attract and retain agri-food investments, to grow our domestic market shares and drive exports. This role should be in partnership with the Premier, the Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade.
  4. Canada has a strong international reputation for food quality and safety. We recommend Ontario work with the federal government, and other provinces, to lever federal supports to differentiate Canadian products from those of our competitors for greater success in export markets. A key mark of success would be to slow the rising Ontario agri-food trade deficit.
  5. Minister, given that we have a target to increase exports to $20B by 2020, we encourage you to look at further opportunities to expand markets abroad. This would build on the success of Ontario's first agri-food trade mission to China, in Spring 2015, which resulted in signing $9 million in business deals. We recommend that OMAFRA work with the private sector to further increase exports, while making strides on import replacement.
  6. The Committee believes the OMAFRA Minister's Open for Business Forum is a constructive model to have early discussions on cross-government changes that impact agri-food, as well as focus on key areas to reduce regulatory burden. We recommend that OMAFRA engage the agri-food sector to refresh and refocus on key areas for improved regulatory design and enforcement in order to ensure an effective and trusted agri-food system that supports Ontario's competitiveness.
  7. To implement this advice, we recommend that OMAFRA and industry collaborate in developing a plan to build up the competitiveness of Ontario's agri-food sector, with a strong focus on innovation, scale and modernization. The plan should identify new opportunities for growth along the entire agri-food value chain, as well as address barriers to growth that impact retention and attraction of agri-food investments in Ontario. We recommend that the Ministry prioritize its work to focus on high-value growth opportunities with value chain partners that are prepared for this challenge.

    Government needs to identify where investment and partnerships should be focussed to best align with industry's innovation, scale and modernization needs. The new Jobs and Prosperity Fund is an excellent example of a much needed tool to enhance industry competitiveness. We note and support the lower eligibility threshold ($5M) for the Food and Beverage stream, relative to other manufacturing sectors ($10M), given the smaller scale of Ontario food processors.

    We recommend that OMAFRA consider programming to address the needs of small and medium-size companies that may need to make strategic investments in order to scale up, become more efficient and take advantage of new market opportunities. This is especially important for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, where more than 50% of the industry is clustered, as they do not have access to the specific regional funds available to the other areas of the province.

Ontario has significant potential in terms of growth in the agri-food sector, but many opportunities remain untapped. As a committee, we focused on identifying barriers to growth and ways that the government can support industry to break through these challenges.

Minister, we as members of your Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee have been honoured by your request to participate in this important process because we are excited by the potential of Ontario's agri-food sector. Agriculture and food production are this province's founding industries, and they continue to be one of its greatest economic contributors. It is our hope that the advice we provide today, will only help grow that remarkable legacy for the generations to come.

Sincerely,

The Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee

Amy Cronin (Co-Chair)
Deb Stark (Co-Chair)
Norm Beal
Ted Bilyea
Jim Brandle
Scott Graham
Jamison Steeve
Christian von Twickel


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