National Newswatch

Keep, grow, accelerate should be the mantra of Canadian agriculture, FCC head says.


Ottawa—Like the coach of a winning sports team, Mike Hoffort delivered a pep talk to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture Annual General Meeting that every farmer should hear.

The family farm is one of Canada’s great competitive advantages and should not be taken for granted, said Hoffort, who will retire as President and CEO of Farm Credit Canada in June after 34 years with the organization.

“I can’t imagine another business structure that could contribute to Canada’s competitive advantage like the family farm. Having the same gumption and stick-to-it-ness to withstand what we’ve lived through these past two years … and still generate record revenue for the sector as a whole. It’s incredible.

“Farm families are foundational to our industry and rural communities across Canada,” he said. “The very nature of a family owned business, where owners not only work, but live, is near impossible to replicate.”

They have “a balanced focus on near-term profitability and long-term sustainability. A commitment and care for land and livestock that is inherent in the design.”

Multi-generational and multi-family operations are increasingly the norm to optimize the talents and interests of family members because the operation is often more than what one person can stay on top of, Hoffort said.

One trend to watch is the investment cost of farms continuing to rise because of the need for new technology, equipment and facilities. The result will be a need “to rethink how we transition these increasingly complex and valuable farming businesses.

“The thought of each generation taking decades to fully buy out the financial interests of the one before will be increasingly difficult,” he said. “This approach diverts resources from business critical investments to move the business forward and stay competitive in a challenging operating environment.”

Keeping the food processing industry growing is also crucial, he said. The sector is already ahead of the growth called for in the Barton Report five years ago and more is doable.

The GDP of Canada’s agrifood industry now is $140 billion with over $32 billion generated from value added processing and corresponding sales. In 2017, it was $110 billion and more heavily weighted to raw agriculture production. “And the best is yet to come.”

To keep attracting and retaining agribusiness and agrifood processors, Canada needs “a coordinated approach nationally, provincially and municipally. Infrastructure, roads, rail, ample access to fresh water and wastewater processing are all a must along with access to skilled labour, competitive cost structures and a hunger to nurture existing businesses and welcome new ones,” Hoffort said.

In the accelerate category is the potential for the agriculture and food industry to be one of Canada’s most sustainable industries. “With the ag and food industry accounting for 7-8 per cent of Canada’s GDP, but approximately 10 per cent of our nation’s carbon emissions, it is natural that there will be expectations.

“This said, agriculture is one of the very few industries where carbon management and opportunity are discussed in the same sentence.”

“I feel we are spinning to some degree and our challenge will be to target progress versus perfection so we can move forward and create momentum.”

Sustainability will look different across the country, he said. “To really accelerate our sustainability journey, we will need to develop technology that helps us grow more and manage costs while also providing big wins on the sustainability front.”

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