Studies show that the volatility of agricultural markets has been on the rise since the early 2000s, fuelled by a number of factors that individual companies can neither predict, nor control, nor counteract on their own. These include:
- Market globalization, which contributes to fluctuating prices
- Climate change, which is responsible for more frequent and more intense weather events
- Biosecurity considerations, which have become paramount in recent years and threaten to restrict the flow of products across borders and impede other market opportunities.
It is vital to create a safety net to protect growers’ income and provide them with a reliable source of support. This will enable them to continue their operations, adapt to change, embrace innovation and maintain their competitive edge. Enterprise risk management (ERM) programs are also key to ongoing stability. Financial tools of this nature represent a strategic investment by the various levels of government in long-term economic prosperity.
More and more, consumers’ choices are based on social and environmental values. Corporate social responsibility is now a must for the majority of Canadians, who increasingly hold the companies they buy from to high ethical and environmental standards.
Growers, too, must live up to new public expectations in terms of food safety, environmental protection and sustainable development.
Bearing this in mind, we are currently developing a set of sustainability-oriented technical specifications for fruit and vegetable producers.
We are also supportive of efforts undertaken by organic fruit and vegetable growers. Organic and traditional production approaches are complementary: they can help each other move forward and compete in the very promising Quebec fruit and vegetable market.
There are upwards of a half-dozen marketing channels available to Quebec produce growers. In long supply chains, there are usually one or more middlemen between the farm and the table, including retailers (grocery stores and greengrocers), Marché central, wholesalers, packagers, brokers and HRI (hotel, restaurant and institutional) players. In shorter chains, there are fewer of these middlemen or none whatsoever. These include public markets, farm stands and pick-your-own operations.
In terms of long supply chains, there are more than 2,000 fruit and vegetable vendors in Quebec, some operating independently, others as part of a chain. They fall into three main categories: grocery stores, supermarkets and greengrocers. In Quebec, the major chains act as wholesalers and distributors for their retail stores and the HRI sector. As a result, the key players in the wholesale and retail markets are one and the same.
When it comes to shorter supply chains, fresh, locally sourced fruits and vegetables bring consumers in direct contact with producers. Through this distribution model, produce growers can establish closer ties with consumers. However, it also involves a much more hands-on role in the marketing and promotional aspect of their business, in addition to their work in the field.
The horticultural market is open throughout North America. Market information is highly strategic, both for producers and for wholesalers. Increased predictability would translate into the ability to make better-informed decisions. Given the high price volatility that characterizes the fruit and vegetable sector, there is a need for mechanisms that make market trends easier to read and interpret.
The QPGA and industry stakeholders endeavour to estimate local prices based on various benchmark markets (proxy value) and the outlook or predictability of these prices. The impacts of climate change have led to sudden spikes and drops in demand, which in turn cause greater fluctuations in price.
Accordingly, the QPGA is hard at work developing a set of tools to help increase the predictability and transparency of product prices in Quebec.
Public-sector investments in research and development in the agricultural and agri-food sector represent a critical source of funding with regard to innovation and improved productivity. In order to adapt to changes in their business environment, stay ahead of consumer trends, tap into new markets and meet their regulatory requirements, farming operations need to embrace innovation so they can remain competitive. R&D is particularly important in an industry such as horticulture, given the short production cycles which mean a faster time to market for new products in tune with consumer trends, either because of their inherent features or because of how they are produced and marketed.
R&D is particularly important in an industry such as horticulture, given the short production cycles which mean a faster time to market for new products in tune with consumer trends, either because of their inherent features or because of how they are produced and marketed.
Quebec’s horticultural sector is very competitive when it comes to information, know-how and natural resources (soil, water, energy, etc.). It can partially replace California as North America’s premier source of fruits and vegetables. For many years now, the Golden State has been struggling with serious droughts due to climate change, which has prompted numerous U.S.-based businesses to turn elsewhere for their produce.
The growth outlook for exporting fresh and processed fruit and vegetables to states east of the Mississippi is strong. The USDA projects that the gap between domestic supply and demand will continue to rise, given the population growth in the area and changes in consumer habits. Currently, imported tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, onions, carrots and cabbage respectively account for 53%, 58%, 17%, 17%, 14% and 8% of the U.S. market, and these numbers are expected to grow by 0.5 to 2 percentage points a year.
Furthermore, the Canadian market is changing, and the demand for nutritional products conducive to healthy lifestyle habits is increasing. The popularity of ready-made and pre-cooked meals is also gaining ground, and Canada enjoys a strategic position in this specific niche, with a number of top-quality businesses leading the market. Last but not least, the future of the ornamental horticulture industry is also very promising, as more and more Baby Boomers are set to retire in the coming years.
We encourage farming practices that limit the use of pesticides. Our position is that pesticides should be part of a broader pest management program that includes preventive measures, pesticide use in minimal quantities and safer alternatives for people and the environment.
We also believe in the importance of maintaining a balance between these various measures in order to reduce agricultural applications of pesticides and to protect:
- Food safety and security (which encompasses quality, availability and affordability)
- The health of farmers and consumers
- The environment
- The economic stability of the agricultural sector.
We step up to embrace initiatives from various public- and private-sector sources in order to support the rational use of pesticides. As such, we support:
- The Stratégie phytosanitaire québécoise en agriculture (the Quebec government strategy on crop health), which encourages the development and implementation of integrated pest management programs
- The Pôle d’excellence en lute intégrée (centre of excellence on integrated pest management), which fosters networking and collaboration to develop integrated pest management methods adapted to the needs of produce growers
- Research and technology transfer programs that promote rational pesticide use.