Better Aligning What We Eat and What We Grow Could Make us Millions

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A report released earlier this year has found that more than half of Ontario’s $20 billion in imported food products could be produced in the province, pointing to compelling opportunities for our economy and agriculture sector.

Ontario, a province consuming more food than it produces, sees a trade deficit of $9 billion ($20 billion imports vs. $11 billion exports). Identifying this as a major issue that results in significant lost opportunities, the report provides some potential diagnostic solutions to what could arguably be considered an illness.

Why are we not taking full advantage of the vibrant agriculture sector we are fortunate to have, and the skilled farmers and land that fill it? Are we nourishing our food system economy to its fullest potential?

Dollars & Sense: Opportunities to Strengthen Southern Ontario’s Food System” finds that if local production were expanded to replace even 10% of the top ten fruit and vegetable imports, the Ontario economy would gain close to a quarter of a billion dollars in GDP, and 3,400 full-time jobs.

If we could better align our local consumption with local production, Ontario could diminish the trade deficit and counteract the accompanying lost regional economic development opportunities that come with it – boosting the health of our food system economy.

After all, the province’s food system generates more than $63 billion in sales of food products, and employs more than 767,000 people – the system is, without a doubt, of importance to assess and analyze.

Southern Ontario grows 98% of the province’s food, and so to highlight current food imbalances, the report splits Southern Ontario into 4 regions:
Golden Horseshoe, Outer Greater Golden Horseshoe (the “Greater Golden Horseshoe” includes both), Southwestern Ontario, and Eastern Ontario.

The Golden Horseshoe accounts for 15% of farm output in Southern Ontario; the Outer Greater Golden Horseshoe at 21%.

Hungry for some more Golden Horseshoe numbers?:

  • The Golden Horseshoe specializes in fruit production, and has 57% of Southern Ontario’s land area in fruit:
  • GH: 57% in total area of fruits and berries, 50% nursery products grown for sale, 55% greenhouse flowers; OuterGGH is 59% of potatoes, 46% of canola acreage
  • GH: 71% pears total area, 88% plums and prunes, 78% cherries, 89% peaches, 88% grapes, 48% chinese cabbage, 44% cauliflower, 41% celery, 41% lettuce
  • The Golden Horseshoe leads in the production of celery, lettuce, cauliflower and Chinese cabbage
  • Half of nursery products (trees, shrubs) are grown in the Golden Horseshoe
  • York Region is the leading supplier of Chinese cabbage, carrots and dry onions
  • Hamilton is the leading supplier of broccoli and cauliflower
  • The majority of food processing and manufacturing activity is located within the GTA, with the Golden Horseshoe accounting for 61% of direct employment in food processing and manufacturing in Southern Ontario. The Greater Golden Horseshoe accounts for 74,800 food processing jobs, or 78% of all food processing and manufacturing employment in Southern Ontario

Although some of the deficit situation is understandable (e.g. tropical fruits and vegetables), there are certainly missed opportunities, and subsequently associated opportunities within the Golden Horseshoe.

The analysis of these numbers for each region points to restructuring opportunities. It is evident that Ontario is importing substantial quantities of food that could be produced in the province. And there are also indicators that Ontario is importing and exporting many of the same food commodities even during the province’s growing and storage seasons (e.g. peaches).

Essentially, some regions produce more of some commodities than they consume, and less of other products that they need. These imbalances point to redistribution solutions for the food system to better align local production with local consumption. For instance, some surpluses and deficits over short distances point to opportunities for inter-county trade in apples in Ontario.

Another noted example: a 10% reduction in carrot imports could be offset by using more Ontario-produced carrots for local consumption, since Southern Ontario has a surplus production of carrots.

If restructuring is feasible, whether it be from increased local production/acreage, diversion of exports/redirecting distribution, or more processing/storage, the results could be of remarkable influence – not just for the health of our economy, but also for the environment, putting transportation emissions into decline (numbers the report also examines).

Dollars & Sense is incredibly valuable in putting factual numbers behind the notion that we face a distribution problem (or illness, if you will) in our food system, and that through restructuring we could address this problem and stimulate our local food economy.

Be sure to learn more from the full report, a study undertaken by the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation, and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

If you are interested in more information about the Golden Horseshoe specifically, check out our Agriculture and Agri-Food Economic Profile for the Golden Horseshoe.