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A New Year: Jan 09

There’s something so fresh and optimistic about a new year


January 5, 2009
By Marg Land


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There’s something so fresh and optimistic about a new year.

The previous harvest season is complete, the big buildup and explosion of Christmas and the holidays is over, the “Happy New Year” party and recovery is a thing of the past; all that awaits is a blank slate for another 365 days. Anything can happen.

Of course, anything and everything has already happened in the few brief months leading up to the New Year. Talk of a recession, coalition governments, emergency meetings with the Governor General, proroguing the federal Parliament, economic uncertainty – watching the news became a form of entertainment for Canadians during November and December, best enjoyed with a stiff drink and a bowl of popcorn. Like a great cliffhanger, no one knew what was going to happen from one episode to the next. As of the writing of this editorial, the uncertainty was still there, along with a growing sense of doom about the financial situation awaiting Canadians.

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But, in the background, there have been some optimistic mumblings around agriculture, including horticulture. The “Buy Local” movement continues to go strong for fresh market producers and helped some Ontario tender fruit growers, who relied on processing contracts in the past, find an alternative market for their produce. Farmers’ markets are also experiencing a resurgence of consumer interest, fuelled by the local food movement plus increased media coverage of food safety issues and bacterial contamination in imported produce.

The Toronto Dominion Bank Financial Group is reporting favourable results for agriculture in 2009, according to its special report – 2009 Prospects for Canadian Agriculture – released last fall.

The report’s analysts are expecting the Canadian dollar to remain soft – in the 80 to 90 cent range; energy prices to continue to fall, with oil staying around $65 to $75 (US) per barrel; nitrogen and phosphate prices to stay down (although they expect potash to remain high in price); transportation costs to ease; wage growth to stabilize with an increase in unemployment; and access to credit to be tight for 2009.

“Putting it all together, the mix of still relatively-high crop prices, a weak currency, and a simmering down in most cost pressures bode well for a further improvement in total farm income in 2009,” the report states, with the warning that a lot will depend on growing conditions.

Analysts go on to suggest Canadian farmers might want to consider looking east – waaay east – toward China and India for future customers. TD Economics is forecasting the economy of China will expand by 8.5 to nine per cent in 2009-2010 while India’s economy will grow by six to 6.5 per cent.

“Canadian farmers have been slow to take advantage of the potential of markets such as China and India, which are growing by leaps and bounds above that of North America,” the TD report states.

Interesting idea – beat them at their own game. A growing population with an expanding economy demands quality food. I doubt affluent Chinese consumers are interested in eating domestic products that might be contaminated with melamine or lead. Perhaps Canadian growers should ship some frozen asparagus their way? ❦


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