With access to only 33.8 million consumers in their country, Canadian field produce growers and shippers focus largely on the export market.
There’s little choice in the matter, they say.
“I wish it worked that way, but you have more people in New York State than all of Canada,” said Paul Otter, president of Woodville Farms in Woodville, Ontario. “You’ve got to export it somewhere.”
That “somewhere” is usually the U.S.
Otter says his company exports as much as half of its products, although the exchange rate sometimes can cut into that percentage.
“Five years ago, we sent out a $10,000 to get $16,000 back; now, we send a $10,000 load and get $9,500,” he said. “That would cut back on exports.”
Ontario’s growers and shippers fill a couple of niches, said Mark Wales, owner of Mark Wales Farm Fresh Produce, Guelph, Ontario.
“One is the processing niche with peas, beans, sweet corn, those kinds of crops,” he said. “One is foodservice, which crosses both sides of the border. Plus, we fill the fresh markets. Thankfully, there’s no U.S. or Peruvian asparagus in the pipeline, so Canadians are doing well in the stores for a change. For those kinds of crops — asparagus, strawberries and chili peppers — we fill a local niche.”
Wales said every item he grows stays in Ontario.
He said he feels no need to export product.
“I spend a lot of my time on farm politics, so quite frankly I’m too busy to get any bigger than I am,” said Wales, who serves various association functions. “I run a sizable pick-your-own, so I have people coming from three hours away to come pick their own Spanish onions, hot peppers, eggplant, tomatoes. I do a couple of local stores and restaurants and do a lot of garlic festivals. I’m marketing as locally as I can. Some of what I do selling bulk moves out of the province. Some get processed into hot pepper paste. But that’s not what I’m interested in doing. I’m also vice president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. We have 37,000 farm families to represent on all facets of agriculture.”
For others, exporting is at least half of their business.
“We ship to the states and the Caribbean,” said Doug Pearce, a partner with Leamington, Ontario-based Pier-C Produce. “I would say, as a whole, maybe 50% of what we grow here is shipped across the border. The U.S. is our biggest market. The Caribbean is next — like Puerto Rico and Trinidad-Tobago and like that.”