Since 1990, policy makers and business leaders have been discussing food independence and security. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified Canadian reliance on imported produce, thereby increasing the produce trade deficit. According to Matcom, it is shocking that Canada lacks a fully comprehensive national food policy that meets domestic challenges of a steady food supply chain. Though food supply chains were strained in 2020, resilient Canadian farmers and food manufacturers and processors fed us through the economically challenging year. That chaotic year shed light on how Canada should protect its food supply chain by curtailing its dependence on produce imports.
Even though Canada was a net exporter of agri-foods in 2020 — with a positive food trade balance of $1.689 billion — there has been a fruit and vegetable trade deficit in the last 5 years. In 2019, the produce trade deficit was $9.313 billion for fruits and $1.769 billion for vegetables, for a combined $11 billion produce trade deficit with imports rising by 3.9%. With cold Canadian winters restricting produce seasonality, Canadian farmers had the answer all along; greenhouses. Canada had the highest number of greenhouse produce production in North America, but by the early 1990’s, Mexico & USA surpassed us. The solution to reducing produce import dependency lies within the construction of greenhouses to lessen the supply gap.
The pandemic heightened the need for both government and citizen to renew their interest and spark debate about domestic food security. 80% of Canadians said supporting fruit and vegetable production is a high priority. Relying on imports will cause interruptions to overseas produce growers and have a dramatic effect on domestic produce availability. In mid-2020 Canadians witnessed Quick Serve Restaurants (QSRs), such as Subway & Wendy’s, changing most of their produce supply to greenhouse farmers, to avoid inconsistencies and disruptions from traditional outdoor farming.
Ontario greenhouse farmers are scaling up their operations and as per one industry executive, “we could grow much more than we do right now, and I think we’re headed there”. There are countless acres of greenhouses being developed and one greenhouse farmer in specific, based out of Kingsville in Ontario is expanding with over 200 acres in North America. The federal and provincial governments must research and diversify greenhouse production capabilities to increase the variety of crops grown in a greenhouse.