Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing Sector Strategy - Discussion Paper


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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Consultation
  3. Questions for Consideration
  4. Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing: Sector Profile
  5. Proposed Strategy Framework
  6. Conclusion
  7. We Value Your Input!
  8. Appendices

Introduction

In Northern Ontario, the agriculture, aquaculture, and food processing sector provides over 4,000 jobs and supports the growth of strong local and regional food systems. The sector drives economic activity, with over $200 million in revenue from the primary agriculture and aquaculture sectors alone. The government recognizes the unique challenges and opportunities to growing this sector in Northern Ontario, and wants to ensure that opportunities are identified and mechanisms to advance related development are in place to support future growth.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is leading the development of a strategy to guide the further growth and development of the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario. Currently OMAFRA, as well as other partner ministries such as the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM), assist the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario through a variety of supports such as advisory services, funding and investment, data and spatial information, research, policy and regulatory support. A Sector Strategy will help to align the supports already in place and will provide an overall framework to guide the strengthening of the sector in Northern Ontario.

The Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing Sector Strategy (Sector Strategy) will build on the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario (GPNO), a strategic framework that is guiding decision-making and investment planning in Northern Ontario until 2036. The agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector was identified as one of 11 existing and emerging priority economic sectors in the Growth Plan.

In 2013, Premier Wynne challenged the agri-food sector to double its growth rate and to create 120,000 new jobs by 2020. The agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario can play a key role in meeting the Premier's Challenge.

In 2014, the Premier's mandate letter to OMAFRA also directed the ministry to work with other ministries and partners to explore opportunities to develop the agricultural sector in the North.

OMAFRA is committed to a coordinated approach to the development of the Sector Strategy and will work closely with its partner ministries - MNDM, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (MAA), Ministry of Transportation (MTO), the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and others as needed, on its development.

The Sector Strategy will be centred around facilitating development and sustainable growth for the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. It will provide a framework to focus and align government support where it is needed by identifying and acting on opportunities. Because the Sector Strategy will be part of a planning horizon that extends to 2036, it is important that the Strategy be developed to be adaptive to changing dynamics and identified opportunities in the sector over time and therefore will be designed to be a living document.

The Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing Sector Strategy will be released later in 2016.

Consultation

Input from stakeholders and partners will be critical to the development of a successful economic development strategy for the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario.

This discussion paper is the basis for a series of targeted engagement meetings with stakeholders such as agriculture and aquaculture producers, food and beverage processors, the agricultural bioproduct industry and other interested groups such as environmental and conservation groups. The discussion paper will also serve as a basis for dialogue with partners such as First Nations and Métis and municipalities. The government recognizes, and seeks to draw on, the extensive knowledge of the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector that exists in Northern Ontario. The insight that can be provided by First Nations and Métis partners, such as traditional ecological knowledge, as well as that which can be provided by many of the North's key agricultural organizations and not for profit corporations such as the Rural Agri-Innovation Network, the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance and the Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Station, will be crucial to the development of a Sector Strategy.

The public also has the opportunity to comment on the information presented in this discussion paper through a variety of formats. Details on how to provide input can be found on page 13.

Photo of Maple Syrup Bottle

Maple Syrup

Questions for Consideration

As you review the content in this discussion paper, we invite you to consider the following questions. Comments and overall engagement with stakeholders and partners will be essential to formulating the Sector Strategy.

    1. What opportunities are there to grow the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in the North?
    2. Who is best positioned to develop these opportunities?
    3. What are the advantages to growth of this sector?
    4. What are the barriers to the growth of this sector?
    5. What actions does industry need to take to drive growth while ensuring it happens in a sustainable manner (e.g. social and environmentally responsible)?
    6. What can industry and government do to support growth opportunities that meet the objectives of the Sector Strategy?
    7. What can industry and government do to support the involvement of First Nations and Métis communities in this sector of the economy?

Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing: Sector Profile

Agriculture

As of 2011, there were approximately 1 million acres of farmland in Northern Ontario, with about 703,000 acres in production, according to the Census of Agriculture. This was made up of about 2,600 farms, which generated just under $192M in revenue (2011 Census). There is thought to be additional land in all Northern Ontario Districts that is suitable for agriculture and could be brought into production, but work on identification and classification of potential agricultural land across Northern Ontario is required. Figure 1.0 shows the number of farms and gross farm cash receipts by district in Northern Ontario, based on 2011 Census information.

Although the number of farms in the region represents only about 5 per cent of the farms in the province, Northern Ontario has:

  • a beef industry that is larger than that of any Atlantic province in Canada
  • a dairy industry that is comparable in size to New Brunswick
  • an innovative maple syrup industry, including the largest producer in the province.

The most significant contributors to farm cash receipts in Northern Ontario are dairy, beef, floriculture and nursery, hay, canola, maple products and potatoes. Comparatively low farmland costs relative to Southern Ontario continues to drive interest and present opportunity for agricultural development in the North.

Photo of Corn Planted Under Plastic

Corn Planted Under Plastic

Photo of Beef Cattle on Pasture

Beef Cattle on Pasture

Patterns of global agricultural productive capacity will continue to change with a changing climate. Similar to other jurisdictions, agriculture in Ontario is vulnerable to climate change impacts that will affect food availability and challenge the province's food security. Some of the production challenges related to a changing climate are likely to include unpredictable or more extreme weather patterns and introduction of new invasive species and new crop and animal diseases. At the same time, the productive capacity of Northern Ontario farm land is rising due to changing climate conditions, improved land drainage, new crop varieties and the use of innovative technologies such as precision agriculture. Growth in northern agriculture therefore has the ability to serve as a key contributor to climate change adaptation. As part of the actions outlined in the provincial Climate Change Strategy, which is designed to achieve a climate resilient province by 2030, is the goal to align climate change objectives with agriculture and natural systems, including helping the agricultural sector to adapt to climate impacts and ensuring food security.

Agricultural development in Northern Ontario will need to take place in a thoughtful manner by ensuring that care is taken in balancing agricultural land use with sensitive natural habitats, features and resources and First Nations and Métis interests. Growth of this sector must utilize Best Management Practices to be both economically and environmentally sustainable. Lessons learned in Southern Ontario may prove useful in planning for various land uses in the North.

Agricultural development in Northern Ontario may also provide opportunities for addressing market issues such as the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in some Northern communities. Factors such as changing climate conditions and use of innovative techniques such as row covers have allowed some producers to begin to supply northern markets with fresh fruits and vegetables not traditionally produced across the north. Opportunities may also exist for Northern agricultural development to help address issues such as the need for a fresh, healthy and culturally appropriate supply of agricultural products for First Nations and Métis communities.

Photo of Maple Syrup Trees

Maple Syrup Trees

Figure 1.0 Number of Farms and Gross Farm Cash Receipts by District

District 2011 Census Farms 2011 Gross Farm Cash Receipts ($M)
Rainy River
278
15.9
Kenora
82
3.5
Thunder Bay
239
32.4
Greater Sudbury
141
10.1
Timiskaming
404
60.7
Cochrane
177
10.8
Nipissing
247
13.3
Parry Sound
326
10.7
Manitoulin
235
12.7
Sudbury
141
8.2
Algoma
317
13.4
Total 2587 $191.7M

Figure 1.0 shows the number of 2011 census farms and gross farm cash receipts for each Northern Ontario District and for all of Northern Ontario

Agriculture Opportunities for Growth

A range of opportunities exist for strengthening the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario. The crop and livestock examples below demonstrate some of the areas and sub-sectors where potential for growth is evident. The engagement process related to developing the sector strategy will help to identify other opportunities.

Crops that Thrive in Cooler Climates

Generally, cereals crops such as oats, barley and spring wheat do well in Northern Ontario where cooler growing conditions lend to less disease and insect pressure. More areas in Northern Ontario are growing cereals and opportunities exist for increasing production. For instance, demand for milling oats (oats for human consumption) from the food processing industry has provided an opportunity for Northern farmers to produce this particular type of oat, which typically receives a premium price due to the quality of oat required to meet milling standards. An emerging increase in demand for oats from beyond Ontario, in particular from the United States, presents further opportunity for growth in oat production in Northern Ontario. Processing capacity for malting barley in Northern Ontario has also resulted in an opportunity for Northern producers.

Other crops that are being grown in Northern Ontario include corn, soybeans, canola, buckwheat, flax and peas. Overall, a long-term trend of changing climate conditions combined with market factors such as demand for cereal and crop products from processors and more recently, a favourable exchange rate with the United States, provide an opportunity to increase production of cereals and other crops in Northern Ontario to supply local, domestic and international markets.

Livestock

There are opportunities for increasing livestock production in Northern Ontario. For instance, the North American beef industry is in a low supply high demand phase and is poised for growth in a market where there is growing demand both domestically and globally for beef products. Currently, there is beef production in Northern Ontario and industry is keen to explore opportunities for expansion. Northern Ontario provides a unique opportunity for livestock production due to factors such as a more favourable price of farmland relative to Southern Ontario, a strong desire for economic development and diversification in northern communities and the extent of potentially suitable land.

Aquaculture

Aquaculture is a key contributor to Northern Ontario's economy. Trout production has grown by approximately 20 per cent since 2010 in Ontario. In 2014, the Ontario aquaculture industry produced approximately $20.5M worth of trout, with the majority of the value (over 85%) of this trout production occurring in Northern Ontario as open water cage aquaculture. The aquaculture sub-sector provides approximately 100 jobs in Northern Ontario.

Opportunities for Growth

There continues to be strong domestic and international demand for farmed fish, and industry-led efforts to develop the aquaculture sub-sector in Northern Ontario for both domestic and international markets are being supported by the province.


Since 2010, OMAFRA has supported the aquaculture industry by providing funding for work in areas such as sustainable growth of the sub-sector, marketing and awareness. Funding has totalled over $200,000 and was provided through several programs, including Growing Forward 2, a joint provincial and federal initiative.


There are two general types of commercial aquaculture practices, cage operations (cages/nets floating in open waters) and land based operations (tanks with effluent treatment). Opportunities for the sector include the development of technologies and methods that reduce nutrient release into Ontario's waters, which can bolster sector growth while maintaining its environmental sustainability.

There are a number of open water cage aquaculture operations in Ontario located within the Manitoulin and Parry Sound Districts and there is potential for expansion of the sub-sector in Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario also hosts 43 land based aquaculture operations as well as 15 hatcheries and 15 stocking operations. Currently, aquaculture producers are innovating by working to solve cultural, environmental and economic challenges to expansion. For instance, one Northern Ontario operator is developing a protocol for establishing fish farms that meet First Nations value systems, beliefs and environmental standards. Other operators are looking at expanding cage culture production for new species such as walleye. Growth of aquaculture production in the North could also create further opportunity for aquaculture processing.

Photo of Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

Photo of Aquaculture Production

Aquaculture Production

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) have recently posted on the Environmental Registry for public consultation draft policy documents respecting cage aquaculture operations in Ontario. These draft policy documents outline how the Province will protect Ontario's waters and ensure that open water cage aquaculture operations are situated, sized, and managed for long-term environmental sustainability. The respective MNRF and MOECC policy proposals can be accessed through the following links:

Food and Beverage Processing

There are 119 food and beverage processing establishments in Northern Ontario and food and beverage processing employs over 1000 people (Statistics Canada, 2014, Statistics Canada, 2011). These businesses play a crucial role in enhancing the robustness of the sector in the North by capturing value-added opportunities.

In Northern Ontario, food and beverage processing businesses are clustered largely in the same areas where agricultural activity is concentrated, as illustrated below in Figure 2.0. Areas of Agricultural Activity represent areas where farming is concentrated, based on 2014 and 2015 data in the Farm Business Registry. Information shown in Figure 2.0 on the distribution Food and Beverage Processing Businesses reflects information collected by OMAFRA in 2015. The information is not intended to illustrate the total extent of food and beverage processing businesses in Northern Ontario, but does provide valuable insight regarding the spatial relationship between food production and food and beverage processing.

Figure 2.0 Northern Ontario Agriculture and Food and Beverage Processing Clusters

Figure 2.0 Northern Ontario Agriculture and Food and Beverage Processing Clusters

Figure 2.0 shows on a map areas of agricultural activity in Northern Ontario where farming is concentrated and where food and beverage processing businesses are clustere

The profile of food and beverage processing businesses and associated employment in Northern Ontario is changing. For instance, closures and decreases in production among some large dairy processors has resulted in an overall estimated decrease of food and beverage manufacturing jobs, while new food processing businesses are emerging, contributing to the development of regional food economies and overall diversification of the sector. Bakeries currently account for the largest share of employment in food processing in Northern Ontario. Trends suggest that growth is occurring in Northern food processing businesses such as bakeries, fruit and vegetable preserving/ specialty food manufacturing, and grain and oilseed milling.

Opportunities for Growth

Consumer preference and factors such as the high cost of transporting food to northern communities are driving demand for more local and regional foods, including value-added food products. Opportunities also exist for Northern Ontario food and beverage processing businesses to supply broader markets such as Ontario, North America, or globally.


In 2015, Slate River Dairy began processing fluid milk and producing yogurt. This new on-farm milk processor, located southwest of the City of Thunder Bay, received support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and has differentiated itself in the world of artisanal dairies via its milk pasteurization and yogurt making techniques as well as its glass bottle packaging.


Other Opportunities for Growth in the Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing Sector in Northern Ontario

A variety of growth opportunities exist for the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario. This includes new opportunities in food processing that may arise with diversified or expanded agricultural production and other opportunities in areas such as the bioeconomy. It is believed that the climate in Northern Ontario could potentially be suitable for growing innovative crops that may have use in the bioeconomy, including miscanthus, camelina, prairie grass, bluestem grass, hemp, and varieties of short-rotation willow. Some research is already underway in this regard to explore potential production opportunities that could lead to use of these crops in bio-products development (e.g., use of agro-based biomass for heat combustion/co-generation of heat and development of biodiesel, etc.), which could also potentially inform the growth of the bioeconomy in Northern Ontario.

Proposed Strategy Framework

The proposed goal for the Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing Sector Strategy will is to strengthen the role of agriculture, aquaculture and food processing in the economy of Northern Ontario.

The proposed framework for the Sector Strategy is based on these principles:

1. Industry-led, government-enabled

Industry-driven initiatives will be essential to the successful implementation of the Strategy with government playing a supporting and enabling role. Some sub-sectors, such as maple syrup and beef, are already taking the lead in planning for development in Northern Ontario and are asking for government's advice in achieving growth. To be successful, proponents will need to demonstrate the viability of their proposed growth, which will need to consider economics of production, market demand and an ability to grow in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Photo of Cheese Manufacturing

Cheese Manufacturing

A sector strategy will allow existing and new opportunities for growth to be identified and will assist with aligning efforts and setting priorities for the variety of existing resources and supports in place for the sector in the North. There are a number of ways that government can help to enable growth of the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario through supports including advisory services, funding and investment, data and spatial information, research, policy development and open-for-business, efficient regulatory support.


The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers' Association (OMSPA) has developed a plan to increase Ontario maple syrup production by 20 per cent over the next five years to serve both domestic and export markets for maple products. The 2015 season saw a seven to eight per cent increase in the number of taps Ontario-wide. OMSPA is working closely with OMAFRA, MNRF and research partners on numerous aspects of their plan.


2. Outcome oriented

The Sector Strategy will focus on opportunities that have achievable outcomes and show high potential for resulting in valuable economic, social and environmental benefits. Focusing on opportunities with achievable outcomes will mean providing key supports where sector readiness has been demonstrated. In other cases where growth initiatives are in the exploration phase, government support can focus on assisting proponents with exploring potential and laying the groundwork for future growth.


The rich, sandy soils near Sudbury have always produced tasty potatoes and now Valley Growers Inc. has found a way for that flavour to be enjoyed by consumers in a fresh, never-frozen French fry. In 2015, Valley Growers launched "Farmhouse Fresh Fries". Using a simple process where the potatoes are cut, blanched to lock in the flavour and nutrients, then cooled and packaged, the Farmhouse Fresh Fries are able to stay fresh for 25 days with no use of chemicals or preservatives. Valley Growers Inc. received a 2015 Regional Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence and thanks to their Farmhouse Fresh Fries, local farmers have gained access to big markets, including Walmart and Loblaw Superstores and 16 new jobs have been created.


3. Co-ordinated, whole-of-government approach

A whole-of-government approach, with collaboration and coordination of activities across ministries and levels of government, is critical for optimizing support for agriculture, aquaculture and food processing in Northern Ontario. Government support includes a wide range of activities such as advisory services, funding and investment, data and spatial information, research, policy and regulatory support. Currently, OMAFRA works closely with its partners such as MNDM to offer a broad spectrum of supports to the agriculture, aquaculture and food processing industry.

Photo of Barley Field

Barley Field

Photo of Farm in Northern Ontario

Farm in Northern Ontario


The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) is an agency of government overseen by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM). Its current mandate is to support the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario through strategic economic development initiatives to support the prosperity of people and communities. Since 2013, the NOHFC has invested $12.7 million to improve 25,500 acres of Northern Ontario agricultural land to strengthen and grow agricultural production. The funding supported approximately 220 agricultural producers to install tile drainage and clear land. OMAFRA staff based in Northern Ontario works closely with the NOHFC and the NOHFC has supported the agricultural development in Northern Ontario through several of its programs.


By following these principles, we will work with our partners to develop and implement the Strategy in order to meet the following objectives:

  • Identify and act upon sector opportunities, balancing growth with environmental considerations
  • Diversify regional economies and strengthen Northern food systems
  • Contribute to meeting the Premier's Agri-Food Challenge
  • Expand opportunities with new and existing partners including municipalities and First Nations and Métis communities.

Figure 3.0 Proposed Framework for Sector Strategy

Figure 3.0 Proposed Framework for Sector Strategy

Figure 3.0 shows the proposed framework for the Sector Strategy including the goal, principles, objectives and types of government supports

Text equivalent to Figure 3.0

Conclusion

The agriculture, aquaculture and food processing sector in Northern Ontario provides jobs, drives economic activity and supports the growth of strong local and regional food systems. The government recognizes both the opportunities and challenges faced by the sector and sees the development of a Sector Strategy as a crucial aspect to guiding its sustainable growth. By utilizing an industry-led, government-enabled, outcome oriented and co-ordinated, whole-of-government principled approach, the Strategy will guide investment and policy and program development related to supporting the sector's growth. The Strategy will also address social considerations in growing the sector, in order to ensure that developing businesses are able to fill community needs. Public and stakeholder input will be essential to ensuring that the Strategy supports the sector to act on opportunities that will help it to further strengthen and diversify.

We value your input!

This discussion paper is a first step in the development of a Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing Strategy. Those interested may provide input into the development of the Strategy by providing your comments in any of the following ways:

By email to: northernagrifood@ontario.ca

By delivery to any OMAFRA office

By mail/courier to:

Attn. Economic Development Policy Branch
1 Stone Road West
2nd Floor NE
Guelph, Ontario
N1G 4Y2

By Fax: (519) 826-4328

OMAFRA will provide participants with a summary of comments from their engagement session as well as provide overall summaries of both consultations and submitted written comments to the public. Once the draft economic development strategy for the Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing sector in Northern Ontario is developed, it will be posted for public input on Ontario's Environmental Registry.

The final Northern Ontario Agriculture, Aquaculture and Food Processing Sector Strategy will contribute to the on-going implementation of the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario.

Appendix 1: The Growth Plan for Northern Ontario - an Overview

The Growth Plan for Northern Ontario is a strategic framework that will guide decision-making and investment planning in Northern Ontario over 25 years.

This Plan focuses on ways to leverage economic, social and natural capital more strategically, and on approaches to attract a wider range of opportunities to the North. It is a plan to stimulate growth by creating a diversified northern economy, stronger communities, a healthy environment and a skilled, adaptive and innovative workforce.

The Plan is structured around six theme areas: economy, people, communities, infrastructure, environment and Indigenous peoples.

Under the theme of economy, the Province will focus on the distinct competitive advantages that Northern Ontario can offer within these existing and emerging priority economic sectors:

  1. Advanced manufacturing
  2. Agriculture, aquaculture and food processing
  3. Arts, culture and creative industries
  4. Digital economy
  5. Forestry and value-added forestry-related industries
  6. Health sciences
  7. Minerals sector and mining supply and services
  8. Renewable energy and services
  9. Tourism
  10. Transportation, aviation and aerospace
  11. Water technologies and services

Economic development strategies for these existing and emerging priority economic sectors will examine opportunities to:

  1. Strengthen networks and collaboration among businesses, industry, the education and research sectors, economic development organizations and northern communities
  2. Attract investment
  3. Grow and retain existing competitive businesses, including export development activities and diversification into value-added business opportunities
  4. Respond to labour market needs and opportunities through education, training and entrepreneurship supports
  5. Support research tailored to the Northern Ontario context to inform business development and infrastructure planning
  6. Improve the clarity and efficient of the provincial regulatory and legislative framework
  7. Integrate sector considerations in labour market and infrastructure planning

This Plan reflects a shared vision between northerners and the Government and is intended to complement other provincial and regional initiatives that also contribute to the long-term sustainability and prosperity of Northern Ontario.

Appendix 2: Provincial Support

Provincial Programs

Growing Forward 2 Business Risk Management Programs (Agricorp)

OMAFRA (Agricorp)

Ontario Trillium Foundation

Programs Provincially Supported Programs


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Heather Cassidy - Manager ADPU/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 03 May 2016
Last Reviewed: 14 July 2016