New cluster promotes Ontario food and farming

Southwestern Ontario’s burgeoning agri-food sector received a boost earlier this month with the launch of the Ontario Food Cluster.

My alma mater, University of Guelph, along with the City of Guelph and others are partners in this new initiative designed to attract more foreign investment and creating more businesses in our agri-food sector.

In addition to being home to some of Ontario’s best farm land and farmers that produce a multitude of field crops like corn, wheat and soybeans, as well as over 100 different fruits and vegetables – not to mention a wide array of meat, dairy and poultry – the Greater Toronto Area, Guelph-Wellington and Waterloo Region together boast more than 2,500 food and beverage companies.

These companies, which include among their number General Mills, Kellogg Canada, Unilever, H.J Heinz, Parmalat, Saputo, Maple Leaf, Dare Foods, Cargill Canada and others, employ more than 210,000 people and have manufacturing revenue approaching $34 billion.

Those are some serious numbers. On the farming side of this equation, we’ve long been promoting the economic impact and contribution our sector makes to this province, but it’s nice to see recognition of that across the broader food chain in Ontario.

“Ontario has a global reputation for food quality and dominates 31.8% of Canada’s supermarket and convenience/specialty food store market, more than any other Canadian province,” stated Gerald Pisarzowski, Vice-President Business Development, Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance (GTMA) in a news release. “The Ontario Food Cluster’s mission is to grow that national dominance to international dominance.”

A 60,000 square foot Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT) facility will open at Conestoga College this fall, supporting 500 full-time students and 300 apprentices in classrooms, mechanical shops, laboratory settings and a pilot plant with different processing lines to help maximize learning experiences. The facility was brought about in partnership with the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors.

The Cluster’s partners also include Canada’s Technology Triangle (Waterloo Region), Grow Guelph (City of Guelph and University of Guelph), Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Readers of this blog will know that I’ve long felt strongly about supporting local farmers…and that local food also needs local processing in order to flourish.

We’re lucky to have cutting edge researchers in our region, together with topnotch farmers who do a great job on-farm producing food for us.

The creation of this cluster and its mandate of promoting Ontario agri-food to international firms bode well for the future of food and farming in Ontario.

I’m looking forward to seeing what successes it can achieve.

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