Canada’s a top ag exporter, for now

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'We could lose that status if we don't adapt'

Canada remains one of the top agricultural exporters in the world but producers and agricultural-related companies can’t sit on their laurels because other countries are getting more competitive, according to a Farm Credit Canada economist.

Craig Klemmer, principal agriculture economist with the Crown corporation, was reacting to reports released by Farm Credit Canada last week.

According to trade ranking reports, in 2016, Canada was the world’s fifth largest exporter of agriculture and the 11th largest exporter of manufactured food products.

It had the fifth highest total export values in the world, behind the United States, China, the Netherlands and Brazil.

Canadian agricultural-related operations exported $24.6 billion worth of agricultural commodities. That amounted to 6.3 per cent of the world’s total food exports, which were valued at $461.8 billion. All trade figures are in U.S. dollars.

The top three exporters – United States, China and the Netherlands – collectively accounted for 35.2 per cent of world agriculture commodity exports in 2016.

In 2012, Canada ranked third in that category, but dropped to fifth due to a surge in exports from China and Brazil.

In 2016, Canada was among the top three agricultural exporters in the world in 11 agricultural export commodities, including wheat, canola seed, rye, oats, buckwheat, flax, and bovine animals such as cattle and bison.

“Canada may be particularly well-poised to exploit opportunities to grow exports of canola oil, beef, pork, chocolate and bread,” an FCC news release says.

Klemmer says those stats are well and good, but producers and ag-related companies shouldn’t take them for granted.

“I think the big message at the end of the day is we cannot be here sitting on the status quo, that we need to continue to innovate, continue to invest for this industry to continue to moving forward,” he says.

“Other countries are going to catch up. Or our competitive advantages are going to erode if we just sit around doing nothing. So we need to continue to invest in this industry.”

Klemmer also notes the domestic economy in Canada is changing as more immigrants from around the world come, so there are opportunities to serve that consumer market — the demand for lentils, for example.

“That’s where our strength is. We have been investing in it. We continue to see new products, we continue to see new crops and we continue to adjust to the changing consumer consumption patterns.”

He says producers and ag-related companies would be wise to get into markets beyond the United States, especially now when it’s in such a protectionist mood.

“When we think about crop production, only 22 per cent of exports go to the United States. So we need to realize the importance of these other markets,” he says.

“So when we think about the pulse market here in Alberta, there are a lot of other great opportunities outside the United States and this report highlights where those future opportunities are.

“China, for example. For every one dollar of income that they gain, 40 cents of that’s going for food. And people are looking to add value to or add more protein into their diet, increase that level of food they’re consuming,” he adds.

“And when we think about Alberta products, that’s where Alberta beef, Alberta pork, really fits into that export opportunities and markets, where we could see some good opportunities here domestically into that export market.”

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Doug Collie joined the Olds Albertan in 2014 as editor. He covers municipal politics, news, community events, arts and entertainment and sports happening in and around Bowden and Olds.