Our agrifood world is about to get much smaller

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Sylvain Charlebois
Troy Media

It’s tomato season and Canadians love their tomatoes. It is by far the most popular vegetable at the grocery store. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the average Canadian consumes at least six to seven kilos of tomatoes per year. More than 12 kilograms per capita of fresh and processed tomatoes are made available to Canadians each year. We waste a lot but have a lot to do.

Tomatoes are the fifth most important vegetable crop in Canada, after corn, beans, peas and carrots. For greenhouse-grown vegetables, however, tomatoes are the number one crop in Canada. After peppers, tomatoes are the number one vegetable exported by our own growers here in Canada.

But we also import a lot of tomatoes, mainly from Mexico and the United States. Surprisingly, import and export rates are very similar across Canada. Many provinces have made efforts to increase the number of environmentally controlled agriculture projects to produce more food domestically.

California supplies a lot of processed tomatoes to Canada, as it is the largest producer in the world. Sauces, salsa, soups, etc. – many tomato-based products are found on the shelves of our Canadian grocery stores. But California is struggling with its water supply. There is a lack of water, and we constantly hear about farmers struggling to grow anything in these drought conditions.

Recent reports suggest California is experiencing its worst drought in 1,200 years, affecting many crops, including tomatoes. Some even speculate that we might run out of spaghetti sauce. Prices may go up, but Canada is highly unlikely to run out of spaghetti sauce. On the one hand, we have many excellent local products that are often overlooked by consumers who only look for certain brands. Also, we produce a lot of tomatoes here in Canada, and the sauces are easy to make. We should worry about a lot of things, but not running out of spaghetti sauce.

That said, the unrest in California will lead to massive changes in the way we grow, import and export commodities – the way farmers’ fields connect to what we consume every day. And change happens very quickly.

For growers and producers, coupled with the wrath of mother nature, there is carbon energy, once invisible and now significantly affecting costs. Expending energy to produce, process and transport food is about to become more expensive. Putting a price on carbon will encourage companies to develop a different strategy. Producers and processors are now being forced to think differently about how they serve markets, including Canada. In other words, our agrifood world is about to get much smaller.

Case in point: This summer, we learned that California giant Driscoll’s had signed a partnership with farmers to grow berries right here in Canada. Driscoll’s is one of the largest fruit growers in the world and has faced water shortage issues. As part of the deal, while Canadian farmers in British Columbia and Quebec take over cultivation for Driscoll’s, they also received Driscoll’s know-how, including genetics and breeding expertise. culture. It is worth a lot of money and time. Driscoll’s smart decision will actually allow Canadian producers and consumers to win.

Essentially, business fundamentals are changing for companies like Driscoll’s. Not only does it need to be closer to the markets it wants to serve, but it also needs valuable resources that were once abundant in California. Climate change is undoubtedly altering the economics of tomato cultivation. Such a partnership between our farmers and the California giant is a perfect example of offshoring activity, and you can expect to hear about more such initiatives in the years to come.

In the future, global trade in agricultural products will not necessarily be limited to trade in bananas, beef, wheat and apples; it will be intellectual property, genetics and branding. Since commerce is ultimately about sharing, what we share will change. Although this is becoming less tangible, the focus will be more on finding the most economically sustainable method of supplying a market. Exporting real food products may no longer be the best option moving forward.

This is the only type of globalization that we will continue to see in the years to come.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agrifood Analysis Laboratory and Professor of Food Distribution and Policy at Dalhousie University.

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