The agri-food sector is a significant driver in the province, employing 1 in 9 Ontarians and representing $36.4 billion in GDP. In Fertile Ground: Growing the Competitiveness of Ontario’s Agri-food Sector, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce highlights the economic contributions of the sector, while recognizing that a variety factors are adversely affecting its competitiveness, and the capacity of industry to meet the Premier’s challenge to double its annual growth rate and create 120,000 jobs by 2020.
The report argues that, in order to sustain the competitiveness of agriculture and food processing sector in Ontario, it is critical that government adopt an approach to regulatory management that is flexible and responsive to the economic context in which agribusinesses operate. In order to attract, retain and grow businesses in the sector, government must also develop a strategic framework that promotes the efficient production of food products, develops the skills of its workforce, improves access to risk management tools, and incentivizes innovation in the sector.
Technology and connectivity are specifically highlited in this report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce:
Consistent with our earlier positioning on this issue, we recognize that the current broadband infrastructure is insufficient to support globally-competitive agricultural practices in Ontario, many of which are optimized through internet connectivity. A recent Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) survey revealed that 94 percent of farmers perceive access to the internet as being of importance to their business.54 Today’s farms rely on data-based management and advanced technologies to identify and address issues that have the potential to affect crop yields, including irrigation problems and fungal or pest infestations.55 Throughout our consultations, we heard from farmers who had invested in technology that they were unable to use efficiently due to insufficient internet access. Others indicated that they continued to use less efficient technology with the knowledge that they lacked the connectivity required to optimize newer equipment. While we were encouraged by the provincial and federal governments’ recent announcement to invest a total of $180 million in the SouthWest Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) initiative, we continue to advocate for government to develop a robust broadband investment strategy that acknowledges broadband as an essential infrastructure investment and provides equitable access to the Internet throughout the province.
SWIFT is actively working to connect agricultural producers, agri-businesses, and entrepreneurs to the wider business community by building a network that will level the playing field and provide critical infrastructure to support modern business needs.