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Some food for thought

Although less than two percent of Ontarians are directly involved in farming, speakers at an annual meeting of the Ontario Farm Animal Coalition heard that provincial producers are in an excellent position to capture significant  market share as consumers look for more accountability and healthier food choices.

March 16, 2009  By Toronto Sun/Sun Media

March 16, 2009 

Ontario can become a food basket for the world helping to reinvigorate the province's stagnating economy if agriculture were made a bigger priority, say experts at a public forum.

While attention has been riveted on the province's eroding manufacturing base and the loss of high-paying jobs in the automotive sector, agriculturalists say nothing says Canadian content like home-grown food.


It's also a big industry with growing potential: The world's population is expected to grow from 6 billion people today to 9 billion in 2050, which could mean future demand for products such as Ontario's livestock and crops, said Crystal Mackay, executive director of the Ontario Farm Animal Council, which sponsored an agricultural conference in Guelph this week.

"We have incredibly rich soil, great farms and access to science and technology to help make it better. We definitely have enough land. The challenge is urban sprawl and we want responsible land use and responsible growth of our cities," Mackay said.

"Canada is a net exporter. Ontario has one-third of Canada's population living here and less than two percent of our population are farmers in Ontario. We're already feeding a lot of people and the opportunity exists to feed more," Mackay said, adding that 50 percent of Ontario's pork is already exported to the US

Ontario ranks first in the total number of farms across the country. There were 57,211 farmers in Ontario in 2006, which accounted for one-quarter of Canada's 229,373 farms.

Brian Weech, director of livestock for the World Wildlife Fund, who spoke at the conference, said it's possible for farmers to use less land, less water and fewer resources, while preserving wildlife habitats and rural landscapes.

"Leaving less of a carbon footprint is something many producers are already demonstrating," Weech said. "There are better grazing management practices, more efficiencies in producing more with less land with crop rotations, using digesters to generate power on farms and use what is normally considered waste products. It takes a holistic approach to land management to increasing productivity."

In the US, the average piece of fresh food travels 2400 to 3200 km to get to a supermarket. If Ontarians buy locally produced food, it would cut greenhouse gas emissions, save costs of keeping food in cold storage warehouses, transportation and infrastructure costs, and boost income for the local farm community, experts say.

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