Premier's Summit on Agri-Food: Summary of the Facilitated DiscussionsOctober 7, 2013
The following is a summary of the discussions of industry leaders during the small group facilitated sessions at the 2013 Premier's Summit.
Overall, industry leaders supported the Premier's challenge to double the growth rate and create 120,000 new jobs by 2020. Industry leaders acknowledged that it would require industry action to move forward in meeting the challenge. Many participants commented on the need for industry to take leadership and develop the sector goals and actions moving forward.
Industry leaders were asked to comment on proposed scorecard indicators and targets that the government had developed. Leaders asked that there be more information provided on what each measure includes (i.e. what was included in the calculation) and how they contribute to economic success or are connected to each other. Participants generally agreed with the proposed indicators as a starting point, but had the following comments:
- Bioeconomy - The "number of companies" as a measure is limited. Revenue would be a better measure of the health of the sector if valid data could be acquired.
- Agricultural Investment - The target is too low to capitalize on the opportunities for Ontario farmers.
- Food Processing Investment - An indicator is needed that accounts for the value added, more specifically, the percentage of product bought from Ontario farmers for food processing in Ontario.
Additional Scorecard Indicators
Participants were then asked to provide their input on additional indicators that may be useful for the sector, they suggested the following:
- Imports - As perhaps an indicator of import replacement.
- Employment - Participants agreed on the need for an employment indicator. They did note that there is a shift toward the use of technology to improve productivity and reduce costs that may impact overall employment numbers. Jobs done by foreign workers should also be taken into account, in addition to capturing how they contribute to jobs in Ontario. The employment indicators need to capture the quality of jobs that are created (i.e. minimum wage or high paying). Perhaps the level of education or technical expertise; average income; or related jobs outside the agri-food sector should also be measured. Employment goals would also be difficult without a substantial increase in revenues.
Other Suggested Indicators - Productivity, profitability and return-on-investment.
There was also some thought as to whether or not the benchmarks could include comparisons to other regions.
Strategies for Achieving Growth
Industry leaders were asked about efforts that could be undertaken to develop strategies for achieving the overall growth target. Leaders made the following comments:
- Tiered Strategy - The strategy needs to be tiered, from a provincial level to a sub-sector level.
- Focus - Sectors will need to have focused strategies to drive both industry and government support.
- Sector Measures - Industry leaders asked for the government to provide a template that allows each sector to identify its own indicators and targets and identify ways that government can help. Once completed, the template would be shared with government.
- Government to Manage Scorecard - The government would continue to develop and track the scorecard indicators over time.
- Regulatory Challenge - Regulatory approvals continue to be a challenge for the industry as they work with a number of government ministries.
- Whole of Government Approach - A whole of government approach will be needed to address regulatory challenges, provide access to markets, attract new investment, develop a consistent brand and develop the labour skills needed for the industry.
- Partnership - A strengthened partnership between industry and government is needed with a longer term perspective and commitment.
- Awareness - Greater government knowledge and understanding of the industry is needed and industry and companies must explore the programs available that can help them succeed.
- Education - There is a need to have more educational programs for the public (particularly for young people) beyond Foodland Ontario that teaches about eating healthily, local food and food preparation. This will help with growing local producers' share of the domestic market. It is also important to consider a strategy to develop skilled workers (e.g. through apprenticeship) who are interested in working in the agri-food and products sector.
- Branding - It is important to continue to brand Ontario produce and processed products that contain Ontario ingredients. Internationally, Ontario should use the Canada brand rather than trying to promote an Ontario brand.
- Investment in Infrastructure - Investments in infrastructure will need to continue (e.g. high speed internet, natural gas to the north, electricity, highways/transit, water treatment etc.).
Moving forward industry leaders highlighted some of challenges for the sector:
- Sector Strategies - Each sector has its own issues and related strategies. Participants questioned how these strategies would come together to create broader action plans that will allow the entire sector to advance and who will lead this process.
- Infrastructure and Competitiveness - There is a need to determine if the right infrastructure is in place and how the costs for businesses (e.g. regulations, input costs, energy, labour) compare with other regions.
- Regulated Marketing - There is a need to discuss building greater flexibility into regulated marketing, including supply management, to take advantage of growing market opportunities.
- Human Resources Development - There needs to be a long term strategy around agri-food sector career awareness and skills development.
- Environment that Supports Innovation - The sector has to become better at identifying areas where the regulatory environment provides advantages to the industry.
- Sustainability - We need to look at all aspects of sustainability - environmental, social, regional and economic.
- Research and Innovation - The agri-food sector is underutilizing existing research and development programs. Currently, there is no collective pool of resources to assist businesses with finding supports for innovation, or a clearing-house for innovative ideas - this could be built virtually.
- Retail Environment - The retail sector environment leads to pressure on producers and processors due to volume requirements, low price expectations and responding to consumer demand on animal health/welfare.
Role of Government
- Enabler - Industry leaders agreed that government's role is to bring relevant stakeholders together and provides support but should not lead sector growth - that is a private sector responsibility.
- Economic Environment - Government can also provide the right environment for investment and competitiveness (e.g. skills training, regulation) so that businesses can then work towards meeting the targets.
- Sector Templates - Government can also provide a template to assist industry with developing strategies including benchmarks and targets.
Role of Industry
Industry leaders commented on the many voices and unique cultures of each sector.
- Supply Chain Approach - Supply chains (producer, processors and retailers) need to come together to develop a common vision and strategies that can be used to elicit government support.
- Independent Intermediary - Industry leaders raised the possibility of developing an independent intermediary that brings all the parties together and that the government can listen to. The intermediary would also provide industry accountability for what is committed to.
*The statements summarized and captured in the documents are based on notes taken at the Premier's Summit on October 7, 2013. Every effort has been made to capture comments comprehensively. The document should not be read as a transcript of the day.
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