By Owen Roberts, FCC Express
Ontario agriculture is buzzing this week after the province’s premier — who also serves as its agriculture and food minister — challenged the sector to hit new highs.
At the Premier’s Summit on Agri-Food Innovation, Premier Kathleen Wynne says she wants the agri-food industry to double its growth rate and exports, and create more than 120,000 new jobs by 2020.
“I have made it my personal commitment to facilitate growth in Ontario through strategic investments and tackling barriers to growth,” she says. “Now, I am looking to the agri-food [sector] to take a leadership role in accelerating growth in their industry.”
Ontario’s agri-food sector is on a roll, with food exports hitting a record high of $10.8 billion last year. It contributes about $34 billion to the province’s economy and supports more than 740,000 jobs across Ontario.
But the premier has a vision for more.
She says she’ll help the industry meet her challenge by taking a “whole-of-government” approach.
That includes expanding the mandate of what the province calls its Open for Business Agri-Food Stakeholder forum beyond focusing on regulations, to addressing all aspects of economic growth in the sector.
Farmers and others have said regulations are one of the most significant barriers to growth. Now, they’ll get the opportunity to elaborate on other areas that can help them towards the provincial target of twice as many exports, twice as much growth and a significant increase in jobs.
Innovation is expected to be a big part of forum discussions. Wynne reminded the sector innovation was the “central plank” of the new Growing Forward 2 suite of programs, with $235-million dedicated to supporting innovative initiatives over the next five years.
The province has also dedicated $30 million to a local food fund over the next three years to create jobs and support innovative local food projects.