Is Canada's agri-food system ready for change?

The Canadian Agriculture Economics Society (CAES) recently hosted their annual agri-food policy conference in Ottawa. The conference, “Keeping Up With Consumers: Understanding The Policy Implication of a Changing Landscape”, encouraged attendees to think about Canada’s agri-food sector in a different light.

Professor Tanjim Hossain, a top Canadian researcher in the field of behaviour economics gave the opening keynote address. A relatively new and popular field, behavioural economics explores how human behaviour impacts economic decision-making. His argument centered around incentives for hiring workers or convincing buyers to make certain decisions.  For example, non-monetary incentives such as a simple peer recognition system have been shown to alter the behaviour of workers and increase productivity and profit. It got me thinking about how some of these insights might improve labour productivity in primary agriculture and supporting industries; something critically needed as labour challenges continue to grow for Canadian agri-businesses and producers. More on this in a later post.

Other speakers discussed potential opportunities arising from the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union. Michel Post and C.D. (Kees) de Gooijer  from the Netherlands and Martin Rice from the Canadian Pork Council provided insights into EU markets. They focused on the gap between the European viewpoint of Canadian products and Canadian exporters approach to the different markets within Europe (for example, processed meats for German consumers versus ham for Italian consumers). This dynamic is important to raise the profile of our exports in the EU markets.

Supply chain expert, Prof. Andrew Fearne closed the conference with a challenge to conventional thinking regarding supply chain management. He asked why Canada was surprised by the “perfect storm” (i.e. large production coupled with a very severe winter) that caused a significant disruption in rail service last winter. He argued a successful supply chain must be designed to meet customer needs, even in challenging market conditions. Supply coordination is key to achieving this goal.  

Canada has made major strides in opening up market access throughout the world. By looking at the agri-food sector in a new light, Canadian agri-businesses and producers could capitalize on the opportunities at hand.

Craig Klemmer, Senior Agriculture Economist