Sylvain Charlebois:

'Our agri-food world is about to get a whole lot smaller'

Sylvain Charlebois is a Canadian researcher and professor in food distribution and food policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Recently, he spoke out about the agri-food situation in North America.

Tomatoes are the fifth largest vegetable crop in Canada, after corn, beans, peas, and carrots. For greenhouse-grown vegetables, though, tomatoes are the top crop in Canada. After peppers, tomatoes are the top vegetable exported by our own growers here in Canada. But Canada imports a lot of tomatoes as well, mainly from Mexico and the United States. Surprisingly, import and export rates are very similar in Canada. Many provinces have made efforts to increase the number of controlled-environment agriculture projects to grow more food domestically.

California provides a lot of processed tomatoes to Canada, as it is the largest producer in the world. Sauces, salsa, soups, you name it — many products with tomatoes end up on our Canadian grocery shelves. But California is in trouble with its water supply. It’s literally running out of water, and we are now constantly hearing more about how farmers are having a hard time growing anything in these drought conditions.

Recent reports suggest California is experiencing the worst drought in 1,200 years, impacting many crops, including tomatoes. The troubles in California will lead to massive changes in the way Canada grows, imports, and exports commodities. And the change is happening very quickly.

For growers and producers, coupled with Mother Nature’s wrath is carbon energy, once invisible and now greatly affecting costs. Spending energy to produce, process, and transport food is about to get more expensive. Putting a price on carbon will get companies to strategize differently. Producers and processors are now compelled to think differently about how they service markets, including Canada. In other words, our agri-food world is about to get much smaller.


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