Stephen Duff, Chief Economist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs,(OMAFRA) was in Merrickville-Wolford this past Tuesday, February 11, at the MUAC presenting his analysis and findings on the Agri-food sector – “Food, Agriculture and Economic Opportunities in Merrickville-Wolford”, along with a sector outlook at the Counties and Provincial levels. Merrickville-Wolford’s Mayor, Doug Struthers, opened the presentation by talking about the significance of the Agri food agriculture, as a sector to be recognized within Merrickville-Wolford. He acknowledged the presence of interested residents, along with local farmers, food and agriculture-related businesses and organizations, as well as Merrickville-Wolford Councillors Timothy Molloy, Don Halpenny, Bob Foster, and Deputy Mayor Michael Cameron. Also in attendance were Economic Development representatives from Smith Falls, Leeds & Grenville, and North Grenville. A special thank you was made to their OMAFRA’s economist and regional representative, Katie Nolan.
Some of the many highlighted topics more specific to Merrickille-Wolford included the Agri-food Sector as it related to employment. Stephen noted: “The Agri-food sector is a much larger presence in Merrickville-Wolford than most other parts of the province.” As an example, the agri-food sector employed close to 125 people within Merrickville-Wolford area in 2016, which was 16% of total employment and the county’s second largest employer, compared to 12% provincially.
He also highlighted Agri-food Consumers as it relates to Merrickville-Wolford. “The permanent year-round population of Merrickville-Wolford is both a challenge and an opportunity for the agri-food sector”. As the population is growing at double the provincial rate, it is aging much more rapidly and that, he stated, “means less food consumption overall; but higher age and incomes can mean more demand for fresh foods”. He mentioned that Merrickville-Wolford farmers sell their products in markets all across Ontario.
“In 2018, OMAFRA estimates that Merrickville-Wolford farms produced almost $9 million in farm cash receipts from a wide range of commodities and we have estimated that Merrickville-Wolford is 5.7% of Leeds Grenville based on the ag census.”
As stated, in many respects all food produced in Ontario is local, and Stephen emphasized that no one county or community is truly self-sufficient in balancing food demand and production. As he commented: “The local food production in Merrickville-Wolford is extremely visible, but of smaller scale and size than most other parts of Ontario”. He also noted that food is a much bigger issue for some residents, due to higher overall living costs and lower average incomes. “The ability of a community, and its food producers, to understand the local balance of food demand and production, and the income situation of its residents, is vital to maintaining an economically resilient local food system.”
Stephen pointed out that the larger, relatively well-off summertime population is a significant opportunity for local food demand and would suggest Merrickville-Wolford has already, to some degree, embraced this reality; but there is considerable room for growth of this trend.
His presentation was informative and provided a wealth of information through his research and AG Census data, as well as our local agri-food sector in Merrickville-Wolford, highlighting areas of potential economic opportunity.