Are there loose links in the food industry chain and what happens to local jobs and economies if one breaks?
Ayr - From the farm, to processing, to end user, and everyone in between, the food industry is a critical economic development driver in SW Ontario but it is way more fragile than we think. This is particularly true in this part of Ontario where there’s lots of efforts being made to focus on local food development. This area also has a high concentration of agricultural research, not into just how to grow more product per acre but how that product can be utilized locally and, more importantly perhaps, globally.
Farmers need to be innovative in producing what’s in demand and/or taking advantage of new markets including supplying raw product to manufacturing. Food processors need to be able to access local product if they are to keep costs down and therefore create new jobs. Increasing the availability of local product versus imports or vice versa could have an impact on local trucking and restaurants and retailers will have to stay on top of the latest food trends as end users are demanding new, innovative and often local final product. Immigration to Canada and this region has also fuelled the demand for diversity of product.
What happens to any one of the links in this chain affects every other link. If one is really successful or challenged it could cause others to be stressed or to fail. This could have serious implications on the entire food continuum as well as the economies and jobs it supports.
With this being a key area for most of these links any impact would be felt much harder here. Over the past year, the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin has been working closely with the agriculture, food processing and truck transportation industries to identify challenges and opportunities to local employment in these sectors and recognizes that there needs to be more discussion on what can be done to support growth and innovation and awareness of the imminent change in this economic sector. To that end, the Workforce Planning Board has organized a conference in Guelph on May 12th The “Growing the Food Continuum” conference will showcase experts to highlight what these challenges and opportunities are likely to be both now and in the future. Details of the conference can be found on the board’s website.