The headline demanded attention, because it affects all of us. “Food Prices to grow in 2013” was the title on the story in the Evening Telegram’s business section on Tuesday.
Due to drought conditions in the US, next year consumers can expect to pay at least four per cent more for everything from cereal to pasta and pork.
The corn crop was poor and several types of grains have been affected by drought.
That has a spin-off effect since corn and grain are the base ingredients in many food products.
Unless grocery stores can absorb the extra costs by cutting expenses within its operations, consumers will pick up most of the tab through higher prices.
And that begs the question, what are our governments — national and provincial — doing to ensure a ready supply of affordable food.
A quick review of the data from Statistics Canada leaves us with the thought that this province is failing miserably, compared to other provinces in Canada, when it comes to agricultural development and support. The evidence is in the cash receipts from farms. According to Statistics Canada, the cash receipt of farms in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, averaged in the $350,000 to $450,000 range, per farm, in the years 2006 to 2010.
In those same years, the cash receipts from Newfoundland and Labrador farms, have ranged from $96,219 in 2006 to $117,958 in 2010.
Factor in beef, dairy and egg producers — which tend to generate the large sales figures — and you realize Newfoundland famers are either not making much money from things that grow from soil, or there’s not many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians growing fruits and vegetables for sale.
The fact is, most of the vegetables and fruits that are eaten by consumers in this province come by truck, across the Gulf Strait, bound for supermarkets in larger centres and, eventually, to the smaller local stores scattered along the side roads and byways.
And in many cases, by the time it gets here, it’s not exactly in prime condition. Line-ups and delays at the ferry terminal can extend the amount of time the produce is sitting in the truck. Limp lettuce and overripe tomatoes are a fact of life here. So, should people living on an island expect it to be better? Twenty to thirty years ago, we would have said no; not only due to the transportation systems at the time but also due to the lack of technology.
We suggest, that in today’s world of advanced transportation and technology, we should be able to purchase food that is fresh and affordable.
Around the world, countries are using hydroponics to grow food to feed their own.
In other provinces in Canada, hydroponic greenhouses are producing tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and similar crops, ensuring consumers in those areas a fairly steady supply of locally grown, fresh produce.
According to Statistics Canada, from 2010 to 2011 sales of greenhouse fruit and vegetables across the country reached $1.1 billion. In fact, according to Stats Canada, sales of greenhouse vegetable and fruit sales has been on a steady incline for the past six years; from $800 million in 2006 to $1.1 billion last year.
In British Columbia, 90 percent of all the greenhouse industry is hydroponic.
And around the world, hydroponics is being used in areas where the soil is too poor to support large-scale, open field farming.
In a province where good soil is rare, but landmass and water resources abound, we have the potential to be the hydroponic capital of Canada.
Some folks have already given it a go. There’s a fellow in St. John’s who supplies fresh lettuce to local grocery stores and restaurants in the city.
More people in this province, beyond city limits, would probably take a stab at hydroponics for the local fruit and vegetable markets; all they need is a little guidance and, possible, some financial support from their government.
We seem to be good at turning out construction workers hand over fist for prospects in the oil industry — never mind that many of them end up heading to Alberta when they can’t find jobs here — and setting up programs to train people as service workers in the health industry (Personal Care Attendants are already in oversupply in many areas). When it comes to the necessities of life, however, food is a basic need. Compared to estimated cost of the proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development — latest numbers put it at $6.2 billion (bearing in mind that’s the government’s estimates and are open to debate) — setting up a few test-pilot hydroponics operations in the province wouldn’t be a big deal.
Hire some expertise, build a greenhouse and create a training program to show entrepreneurs how to run an operation, and you will have succeeded in not only expanding the provincial agriculture industry, but enabling a new generation to stay in the province by laying down roots in agriculture.
Do nothing and, well, we’re stuck with another lifetime of increasingly expensive wilted lettuce and overripe tomatoes.