Fertile Ground: Growing the Competitiveness of Ontario's Agri-Food Sector

December 05, 2016


Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) recently released its Fertile Ground:Growing the Competitiveness of Ontario's Agri-Food Sector report.

With its 60,000 members, from SMEs to multi-national corporations, the OCC represents and advocates for the Ontario businesses to support an environment of economic growth in the province. As such, the Chamber is uniquely positioned to identify any barriers and recommend ways to preserve and grow competitive advantage and export markets.

OCC’s report reaffirms the importance of the agri-food sector as a key economic driver in the province, contributing $36.4 billion in GDP and employing 1 in 9 Ontarians. The sector, however, is facing significant challenges and its continued success cannot be taken for granted. The report identifies these challenges and recommends ways in which Ontario agribusinesses can be supported in meeting these challenges.

Regulatory environment in the province has been a long standing challenge to navigate. Substantial company resources have been diverted to the effort of complying with a myriad of regulatory obligations, resulting in a higher cost of doing business and a reduced capacity to invest in innovation and growth. The province is urged to adopt a new regulatory framework that lessens the regulatory burdens and makes available a Concierge Service, similar to the Innovation Concierge Service, to help agribusiness navigate and achieve compliance with relevant regulatory requirements.

To address workforce challenges of recruiting talented individuals and meeting seasonal work needs, the sector intends to reach out to Ontario universities and colleges to make sure its needs are represented in program offerings as well as to communicate the fact many of the jobs in the sector are well paying with excellent opportunities for advancement and professional growth.

Infrastructure, including transportation to help move goods throughout the province and access to natural gas in rural areas, is a necessity to support the continued operation of agribusinesses in Ontario. The greenhouse sector in particular is very sensitive to energy access and pricing, and is eager to see an improvement to natural gas infrastructure that would make it possible to access a fixed volume of natural gas year round.

The Growing Forward 2 program was launched in recognition that the food and beverage industry is extremely capital-intensive. However, stakeholders find that the program does not always support factors that influence growth and tends to have restrictive eligibility criteria. To better reflect the funding needs throughout the supply chain, the recommendations are to provide financial protection to produce sellers, recognize and prioritize food and beverage processors, and create a new fund to address climate change.

Last but not least, innovation in the sector is a key driver of productivity, competitiveness, and growth in the agri-sector. OCC members call for the restoration of the recently reduced Ontario Innovation and Research & Development tax credits, support for the industry-government-academic partnerships, and the development of a national bioeconomy strategy that supports R&D investments, helps to commercialize innovation, and improves regulatory processes and training programs to align with the needs of the sector.

In summary, the OCC report on the challenges faced by the agribusiness in Ontario and recommendations on how to meet them is a valuable resource for both the Ontario and the federal governments as they work to shape the policy frameworks that affect agribusinesses. It is only through the keen understanding of the key challenges faced by the agri-food sector that the long term prosperity of Ontario agri-producers and processors, and that of the Ontario business community as a whole, can be achieved.

To learn more, please contact your local BDO office or:

Tanja Radenovic
Senior Consultant, SRED
905 270 7700

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