Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary by Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/Manager of Boards & Committee Services.
Sustainability is a concept that is getting a lot of attention lately. Sustainability rests on three key points: social, environmental, and economic. With a new federal Liberal government in office and a Climate Change Conference on the horizon, we might expect greater emphasis on the environmental pillar going forward. At the moment, however, the new Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has taken a much stronger focus on the economic pillar, and the importance of profitability for farmers in Canada.
The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, having won his seat in the riding of Cardigan, Prince Edward Island for the ninth consecutive time, has now also been appointed the new Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. MacAulay has served in cabinet in former Liberal governments with different portfolios. He himself was a seed potato and dairy farmer before going into politics. Early interviews with MacAulay, such as the one with CBC PEI, quote him as emphasizing the importance of farmers’ profitability. Another CBC news report suggests his early focus will be on the TPP trade deal and Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) in the US, a contentious issue for meat exporters in Canada and Mexico.
The profitability of farmers in the global market place is connected with profitability for those further along the value chain. The loss of Quality Meat Packers Ltd., for example, has left much Ontario pork to be processed in other provinces. Other food processing plants are being lost as well, such as the recent closure of a salad dressing plant in St. Mary’s Ontario.
Factors like the cost of electricity and the cost of labour directly affect farmers’ profit margins. These rising costs also impact employers along the value chain, affecting farmers’ marketing opportunities. Within Ontario, these costs of doing business need to remain competitive in order for Ontario to sustain a profitable Agri-Food industry. At the same time, low labour costs are not where Ontario has the greatest opportunity to be globally competitive. Farmers’ profitability is also at risk whenever the cheapest production is the highest concern in the food system.
Farmers in Ontario, while being efficient producers, also set and continue to meet high standards of social and environmental responsibility. Consumers are increasingly recognizing the value of these standards, and demanding that retailers provide food choices that reflect their values as eaters. Farmers in Ontario are well positioned to meet these demands and to be preferred suppliers for these markets, at home and abroad.
It is important to balance all three pillars of sustainability, and to recognize how they intersect. Economic sustainability is a must-have in any form of sustainability going forward. Recognizing the potential economic benefits of the environmentally and socially sustainable practices of Ontario farmers may help maintain that economic sustainability going forward.