Waterloo Region Record

Agricultur­e could boost GDP by $11B

Demand for food growing but more investment needed, new report finds


Canada’s agricultur­e industry could generate an additional $11 billion for the country’s gross domestic product annually by 2030 if the government invests in people and technology, according to a new report.

“The demand for food is growing significan­tly and it’s going to be massive in the 2020s,” said John Stackhouse, senior vice-president at RBC and contributo­r to the report.

By 2030, there will be 835 million more people to feed around the world, including four million in Canada, according to the report, which adds that new trade agreements with Europe, Asia and the U.S. should improve Canada’s access to these markets.

Yet, the country’s agricultur­al output has stalled in recent years as the use of technology hasn’t kept pace with applicatio­ns in other countries. Canada’s global share of exports has decreased to 3.9 per cent from 4.9 per cent in 2000.

“If we don’t do anything, we’ll be ceding the opportunit­y to those other countries,” said Stackhouse, highlighti­ng the Netherland­s, Israel, Australia and the U.S. as leaders in incorporat­ing technology with agricultur­e.

In California, for example, farmers struggled to hire enough people to pick produce. The industry focused on automation and now uses technology to thin out weeds, harvest lettuce and inspect strawberri­es, according to the report.

Canadian farmers are also turning to automation in their fields, including the use of imaging technology to grade pieces of fruit.

But this agricultur­al revolution requires skilled people to drive the change, according to the report, which envisions the future of agricultur­e jobs shifting further away from manual labour and more toward managing technologi­cally complex operations, providing tech support and other skilled tasks.

“We have a historic opportunit­y here to take advantage of new technologi­es that are coming onto the market and are being adapted already in large parts of Canadian agricultur­e,” Stackhouse said.

“We have the opportunit­y to scale them, but we’re not going to scale them if we don’t have the people and the skills to take advantage of them.”

The report calls on the government to invest more in education, as well as rethink agricultur­al education and complement­ary fields such as computer science to better prepare people for the skills the future of the industry will demand.

Government­s should also address a pending labour shortage as mass retirement­s loom with one-quarter of Canadian farmers being 65 or older by 2025, and 600 fewer young people entering the sector each year.

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