As global economic growth continues to move at a slow pace and political uncertainty grips many parts of the world, the question is repeatedly asked – what is the way forward for a small, open economy like Canada’s? How do we navigate these choppy global waters, and where do we find our strategic advantage? A large part of the answer may come from modern agriculture.
Canadian Dominic Barton is Global Managing Director of McKinsey and Company, and for the past year he has been Chair of the government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth. This council has been charged with the daunting task of determining how Canada can create lasting economic growth in an era of soft energy prices and weak global growth.
One of the key sectors publicly championed by Barton during this process? Agriculture and agri-food. He challenged his audience at a Public Policy Forum event in October 2016 with these remarks:
“I think it’s time to think of agriculture not as the old world, but the new world. We are going to have to produce over the next 40 years the equivalent amount of food that we’ve produced over the last 10,000 years…This is a big shift and it’s there for us if we want to go after it.”
As a global business person, Barton knows that Canada is among the few countries that can deliver on the world’s increasing desire for trusted, high-quality, reliably and sustainably supplied ingredients and foods. Within our borders, he understands that agriculture and agri-food can create middle class jobs from coast to coast, attract investment, expand trade, and be a driver for innovation.
These themes were echoed by Canadian Agriculture’s Productivity and Trade, a report published by Farm Credit Canada (FCC) in late 2016. In examining the growing volatility created globally by extreme weather, commodity prices and shifting trade policies, FCC emphasized the need for Canadian agriculture to improve productivity in order to maintain and expand its place as a global exporter.
While improved productivity doesn’t always immediately translate to export growth, FCC noted, eventually the rewards come, as evidenced by sectors such as canola whose productivity gains eventually resulted in a significant and growing share of the vital China market. FCC’s report also pointed out how important productivity growth is in light of the global shortage of additional agricultural lands, and the demands for sustainability. FCC concluded that, “Growth in land use simply cannot sustain growing demands for production.”
Plant science technologies have and can continue to play an important role in improving productivity and sustainability in agriculture. Ensuring continued innovation in this industry going forward will be paramount in helping Canada take advantage of the opportunities at hand.
The evidence is clear – agriculture and agri-food present a tremendous opportunity for jobs, growth and investment for the Canadian economy. Furthermore, the path to this growth will be found not through expansion of land use, but in innovation and productivity growth. That puts the challenge directly at the feet of our industry. The opportunity has never been clearer, and the time to seize it is now.
Vice-president, government affairs, CropLife Canada