Currency exchange, politics and competition from U.S. product present challenges to Ontario’s field produce exports, industry leaders say.
“Food is integrated in North America — it’s a most integrated system, even more than automotive,” said Jamie Reaume, executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers Association, Newmarket, Ontario.
That puts an extra heavy onus on Ontario growers and shippers to clear those year-by-year hurdles, Reaume said.
“What’s our biggest challenge besides currency, environmental issues, transportation? Being able to provide the most nutritious food anywhere,” he said. “That’s why we work with food safety protocols. We’re actually way ahead of the game, as far as what’s going on there.”
Constant communication with U.S. customers is crucial, Reaume said.
“You still need to be able to talk with everybody. We call it a value chain up here,” he said. “We have to follow through. If we don’t have the product, where does it come from?”
Ontario production helps make up shortfalls in the states, he said.
“You got snow in Texas, and we didn’t. You got heat in Washington State, and we didn’t,” he said. “We had the driest winter in Canadian history, which is different from what happened last year with the wettest and coldest summer we’ve had. That makes a difference.”
Currency exchange is a key issue to Pier C Produce, Leamington, Ontario, said Doug Pearce, partner in the onion and carrot shipper.
“The exchange rate can really help with export, which is half our business,” said Pearce, whose company ships across North America.
For Vittoria, Ontario-based Scotlynn Commodities, export accounts for about 60 percent of its shipments, said owner Scott Biddle.
“The biggest challenge when you’re exporting products is working with the currency exchange and increased costs for fuel for trucks to ship it,” he said.
Trucking shortages also can bottle up the pipeline across the border, Biddle noted.
“One problem we’re already seeing is a loss of capacity in the trucking business,” said Biddle, who also operates a fleet of 350 trucks. “There are not enough carriers because of the strain the trucking companies went through the last three years,with the decline in the economy. Things are on an upswing, but you’re not going to see enough refer trucks.”
Exchange-rate issues have been a hurdle for St. Thomas-based Whalls Farms, said spokeswoman Chris Falk.
“The currency exchange has really hindered us the last couple of years,” she said. “I think it’s stable now, but it’s not sitting very well for us now as we sell to the us.”