A perspective on agriculture: how we feed ourselves

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Agriculture is changing.

In Canada, the agriculture sector represents ~3.3% of all economic activity and agri-food processing is the second largest manufacturing industry nationally. British Columbia has about 5% of the province’s land base used for agricultural purposes or ~47,000 km2 and is mostly located within a unique category of land called the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The agri-food sector could be one of the province’s biggest industries by 2030. But getting there will require a determined focus on and investment in innovation to raise productivity — increasing output per unit of input — while also managing the associated environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, agriculture can be a positive contributor to net zero goals and part of this depends on innovation and the application of technology in the sector.

Not capitalizing on the momentum of the B.C. companies who are developing and producing world-class agri-tech solutions would be a failure of innovation for B.C., including for a provincial government theoretically committed to growing B.C.’s technology sector, encouraging innovation, and promoting the province internationally as a preferred place to invest and do business.

Today’s technology solutions are different from those in the past but with similar objectives. B.C. has all the conditions to grow a vibrant agri-tech sector that can build clean industrial activities, promote innovation, attract creative and talented people who can solve challenges, and contribute to the economy. Failing to nurture and support B.C.’s agri-tech sector is a significant lost opportunity. We should not let it pass us by.

Highlights

  • Agriculture is a complex and vitally important economic sector. It is an area of constant experimentation and evolution. Using technology is at its core along with massive productivity improvements. Today’s technology looks different from the past. But without continued advances in technology and agricultural knowledge, it will not be possible to adequately feed 7.5 billion people on earth, let alone the additional 2 billion people expected to join them by 2050.
  • B.C. has a sizable and vibrant agri-tech sector, with at least 150 companies of all sizes. Collectively, these companies add to the more traditional agricultural base in the province and represent a significant augmentation of B.C.’s traditional agricultural competitive advantages. They will also support the expansion of the current suite of over 300 agricultural commodities produced in B.C.
  • Taking the next steps to support and encourage the sector’s growth means coming to terms with romanticised views that agriculture is mostly small artisanal farms. While they greatly enhance the richness and diversity of B.C.’s food products, these small ventures cannot meet our food requirements or enable the province to remain a significant exporter of agri-food products.
  • The introduction of more technology in agriculture production means B.C. will also need to revisit Agricultural Land Reserve policies. Since agri-tech is part of agriculture, it can and should be enabled within the ALR.
  • Given existing land use pressures and the growing need for food, having ALR land shift to green belts rather than to food production would be unfortunate. Over time this would lead to greater reliance on food imports, reduced economic activity, and a foregone opportunity to enhance food security and build a component of B.C.’s wider clean technology economy.