One issue that has been a focus of Simcoe County Economic Development officials for several years is ensuring the sustainability of the agriculture sector for generations to come. It is an issue that is of concern throughout the province as the nature of agriculture is changing due to variables such as globalization, increased competition, cost uncertainty and climate change.
The Town of BWG has been working closely with colleagues at Simcoe County to undertake Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) strategies to help retain businesses in the agricultural sector and to help them expand. From February 1 to August 21, 2018, the County – in collaboration with BWG, other local municipalities, neighbouring Grey and Bruce County and Georgian College – conducted more than 270 surveys to look at trends, opportunities, challenges to agricultural businesses.
With more than 800,000 individual pieces of data collected, a regional trends report was developed, outlining key findings:
Most businesses had been in operation for over 10 years, with 88 per cent of participants saying their market was primarily local or provincial.
- 83 per cent of businesses had good or excellent impressions of doing business in their local community, noting they wanted to see improvement and help in municipal planning and building permitting process and that they are also actively looking for new and emerging niche market opportunities.
- 53 per cent of businesses wanted to expand in the following 18 months, while 58 per cent of primary producers had some form of farm gate income, but 45 per cent said they had some barriers in their community to expanding their farm gate business. Many were interested in agri-tourism or on-farm retail opportunities to expand their farm gate sales.
- Developing alternative sources of revenue outside of the crops or livestock is a particular interest of younger farmers, who are also most interested in new technologies and developing sustainable products and processes. Agri-tourism was cited as providing both inspiration and opportunity for new farmers to stay or engage with farming, particularly with the incorporation of social media technology.
Simcoe County adopted a broad definition for agri-tourism to include a wide variety of experiences for the public. It is about diversification and the broader culture around agriculture: From farmer’s markets and purchasing produce and meat at the farm gate, to things like corn mazes, selling sunflowers, canning your own cucumbers to make and sell pickles as a side business while still supplying the larger manufacturers. Or, as some have done in Alliston and Bradford, use waste produce or ‘seconds’ to make alcohol, such as Farmhouse Spirits in Bradford.
Bradford’s annual Carrot Fest celebration has seen tremendous success with online marketing, attracting people as far as Nova Scotia to partake in this celebration of community and their agricultural legacy.
Increasingly critical to agri-food processing and agri-tourism efforts is the availability of broadband Internet to increase sales of farm products and to market agri-tourism experiences.
Both Simcoe County and BWG are working towards expanding broadband to rural farming areas that are presently under-serviced by this indispensable tool. A notable recent project through CENGN (Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks) will shortly bring Internet access to homes and farms in the Holland Marsh. Details of this project are available at www.gotobwg.ca/broadband.
For more information on the initiatives and programs being developed by Simcoe County Economic Development staff, please visit www.simcoe.ca.