Unlocking Canada’s agricultural potential requires a swift kick in the rear

Grow Canada 2022 (RealAgriculture)

A few hundred people, passionate about Canadian agriculture, gathered in Ottawa this week for the Grow Canada conference. This event is always one of the highlights of the year, as it brings together several industry groups, farm groups, government department reps, and stakeholders, under a positive vision for forging a path forward.

I was fortunate to be asked to host a panel challenged with uncovering the barriers to Canada unlocking its agricultural potential. To be sure, it’s a mighty big topic but one that is critical for 2023 and beyond. The panelists that joined me were Dave Smardon of BioEnterprise, and Carlo Dade of the Canada West Foundation.

Up for discussion:

  • Research and Investment
    • Canada’s biggest hurdle in this area is that it struggles commercializing its research in comparison to countries around the world. Canada is ranked 8th in world in ag and food research, but comes i at 23rd  when it comes to commercialization. “We don’t do anything with that research,” according to Smardon.
    • According to John Stackhouse of RBC Royal Bank,  Canada has a two trillion dollar gap to fill in innovation investment.
    • Canada lacks corporate venture capital funds focused on agriculture and food, which are quite common in Europe. Tesco has a venture capital fund while Sobeys does not for example.
  • Regulatory
    • It’s one thing to develop technology, but have to have access. Essentially farmers will be handcuffed if there is not an adherence to velocity and a science-based approach.
    • Regulatory systems can be bulked up to protect the end user but can quickly drift into being barriers to investment and market entry. Regulations should keep us safe, that’s it.
  • Trade
    • In terms of how Canada’s customers view the reliability of its trade infrastructure, Canada has dropped from the Top 10 to 32nd in the world. If you believe that the customer is always right, Canada has some work to do.
    • Trade infrastructure investments are long term plays which are much longer than political cycles.
    • Non-tariff barriers continue to afflict Canada’s rules based trade approach.

It is always easier to identify the problems and much harder to hone in on the solutions that will unleash the agricultural economic engine. According to the panel, Canada needs to focus, find critical mass and stop spreading money “like peanut butter.”

Dade shares that actual planning is a far cry from some of the negative feelings a term such as “central planning” can carry. Instead, Canada needs to stop with the headline grabbing and follow throw on promises to allow agriculture to thrive.

With so many issues ahead, it would be easy to be negative, but with challenge comes opportunity — the question is whether Canada is willing to not disappoint.