Donald J. Savoie
University of Moncton
The COVID-19 pandemic will have lasting effects on most sectors of the economy. Some companies, especially in the airline industry, are unlikely to return to the pre-crisis situation. Others, however, may see opportunities. We are told that Wall Street investors are taking a fresh look at the food industry as a growing sector.
Several promising possibilities are available to New Brunswick in this sector which is likely to transform a situation perceived as negative into a positive one. We are told that New Brunswick is slowed down by the excessive rurality of its population – in Canada there are four urban inhabitants for one rural inhabitant, while in New Brunswick the ratio is about one to one. a. In the north, south, east and west of our province, the food sector offers opportunities that must be exploited. My understanding is that the financial support required from the provincial government to exploit these opportunities is minimal, which is important given that the province’s enormous fiscal challenge will be felt for a long time to come.
Think about the following prospects, among others: An entrepreneur has planted a million apple trees in Southeastern New Brunswick and will soon be exporting $ 100 million worth of apples per year to Europe and the United States. He plans to plant millions more apple trees and someday export $ 1 billion worth of apples a year. To my knowledge, this entrepreneur has not received a single dollar from the Government of New Brunswick.
In southwest New Brunswick, Cooke Seafood has been able to achieve an impressive number of successes over the past 35 years. New Brunswick should be proud of this commercial success.
For its part, Les Algues acadiennes has become the world leader in seaweed production and has a facility in Pennfield. Other opportunities may well arise for these two companies in the post-COVID period.
The impact of McCain Foods on the local economy is well documented. I believe the company is also well positioned for further growth. The poultry industry in the Northwest region employs hundreds of New Brunswickers.
Oxford Frozen Foods built the world’s most modern blueberry processing plant on the Acadian Peninsula. The plant and its related operations currently employ 300 people in an area in desperate need of employment. Oxford plans to do a lot more in the region. The provincial government has a choice: leave the land fallow and unproductive, or cede it to Oxford and local farmers to support the growth of the wild blueberry industry and create new jobs. Oxford is transforming the industry in the Acadian Peninsula much like McCain Foods did in northwestern New Brunswick.
Fishermen and fish factories can be found all along the province’s 5,500 km of coastline from St. Andrews to Caraquet. It is possible to increase the added value of their products.
The cranberry industry is also present in New Brunswick. The area under production in the province, from 25 acres in the early 1990s, now stands at nearly 1,000 acres. The industry faces challenges, but its future is bright. There are cranberry farms in several rural communities from Richibucto to Maugerville.
I understand that Amish families are looking to settle in New Brunswick. Prince Edward Island welcomed 10 Amish families in 2016. There are now 30 Amish families and their community continues to grow around Montague. Their arrival has breathed new life into the local economy and, according to media reports, “the islanders are going out of their way to help them” and are delighted to see the old farms back in operation. I would point out that the Amish community does not seek or even accept public funds, including medicare and funding for their education system.
Across the province there are hundreds of small farms selling their produce in local markets. We are also seeing more and more young companies that seem promising, for example York County Cider. Start-ups are in addition to those with strong historical ties to the New Brunswick food industry, such as Ganong and Moosehead.
The above examples demonstrate that the food industry is now fashionable in the post-COVID-19 era and that New Brunswick is well positioned to take advantage of emerging opportunities. The province’s food industry has access to a market of 120 million consumers right on our doorstep on the east coast of the United States.
What to do? I urge the Government of New Brunswick to hold a virtual food summit and invite representatives from food companies of all sizes to provide their perspective on how to get the most out of the food. possibilities that emerge. The industry may not require significant government funding, but it certainly does need their support.
I would suggest, for example, that we include an item on the agenda: the government should undertake a thorough review of its regulations and red tape and their impact on business. Such an exercise would be beneficial for all businesses, not just those in the food sector. I believe some of these regulations are long out of date. The business community tells me that a number of regulations in force in New Brunswick do not exist in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, which is detrimental to the competitiveness of businesses in our region. province.
I recommend that the Premier chair the first meeting of the summit to send the message that the sector is important to New Brunswick, especially to all of its rural regions. I also recommend that the summit ensure broad representation ranging from large companies and start-ups to small farms that sell their products in local markets. Our rural communities need a boost, and the COVID-19 crisis, with all the pain and trauma it brings, may provide an opportunity that New Brunswick must not miss.
For the sake of transparency, I would like to point out that I am not currently a lobbyist for any business in any sector, including the food industry, and that I have never been.