The agri-food sector is a major player in London’s economy — a primary export industry that is one of our biggest competitive advantages.
According to the London Economic Development Corporation, it currently generates $6 billion a year in gross domestic product (GDP) and sustains 7,000 jobs.
Southwestern Ontario is home to Canada’s best agricultural farm belt.
We can provide companies with wide variety of raw materials and ingredients and our established food cluster has excellent supply chain support for processors that include temperature controlled and refrigerated logistics providers, equipment maintenance, and food grade packaging suppliers.
Global food demand is expected to double over the next 30 years and we must be well positioned to meet this demand. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) observes that a 70 percent increase in food production will be needed to sustain our population by 2050.
In 2013, Premier Kathleen Wynne challenged the broader agricultural industry to add 120,000 jobs by 2020. Half of that, it’s hoped, could come from the food processors.
This is a plausible goal that our city and surrounding regions should take advantage of by working together with industry.
Collaboration means developing and implementing strategies that expand livestock feeding and field crop production opportunities to support value-added processing and export goals.
It means creating innovative investment attraction, market development and regulatory harmonization initiatives to capture London’s agri-business opportunities.
It’s important to help open new markets for London’s agricultural products, and create more opportunities for producers.
Opportunities such as effective business risk management programming and sub-sector measurement systems and indicators (data) that increase their competitiveness.
In fact, London needs to redouble its efforts to promote the industry home and abroad through targeted trade missions to emerging market. We need to differentiate Canadian products from rival countries, promoting our reputation for quality and safety.
There is an immense potential for growth in the agri-food sector, but many opportunities remain untapped.
Growth in the sector will come from its ability to compete internationally, through farm-level production, emerging value chains, food processing, low dollar, research and innovation and global trade.
According to a report by Capgemini Consulting, the agri-food sector will also face many challenges in the future. Fortunately, this opens up opportunities for technology transfer from outside the sector.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (often known as drones) which are generally associated with the defense industry have been redeployed for the surveillance and imaging of large apple orchards to look for diseased leaves on individual trees, dramatically improving productivity.
The Agra-Alliance Market Access Program, for example, reports that approaches such as warehouse receipt systems, commodity exchanges, and market information systems contribute to a 10-35 percent improvement in incomes for smallholder farmers by reducing post-harvest losses and transaction costs.
GPS technologies are now becoming commoditized, and in-soil sensor technology is starting to become so cheap that sensors can be plowed into the soil, where they biodegrade naturally once their purpose is fulfilled.
Agriculture will continue to drive growth in London’s exports. It provides a strong foundation for the regions success.
It also opens opportunities for adjacent sectors and post-secondary institutions to integrate within supply chain management and logistics and provide value-added research and technologies.
Diversifying our economy is an imperative, but it must realistically be built on the platform of our city’s agricultural advantage.
Amir Farahi is the Executive Director of the London Institute. You can reach him at email@example.com.