By: Forrest Scharf, PAg, Provincial Specialist, Fruit Crops
In mid-January, the Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association (SFGA) hosted a roundtable meeting to discuss the strategic direction of the fruit industry. Factors that prompted the meeting included the development of the next Agricultural Policy Framework, the recent enactment of The Safe Food for Canadians Act, recent international export opportunities and poor coordination of fruit industry development initiatives. The meeting included representatives from fruit commodity organizations (Haskap Canada, Canadian Cherry Producers Inc. and the Saskatoon Berry Council of Canada), and provided a forum for growers to voice their concerns and make suggestions.
Participants concluded that the fruit industry is fractured and needs more cohesive development. They proposed that the industry should create a strong business plan. A business development committee was formed at the meeting, and its first target is to survey growers for industry data. Accurate data are required to understand future infrastructure needs, to determine the scale of markets that can be supplied (especially with respect to international and institutional buyers) and to develop production insurance programs.
It was noted that growers need to improve investment efficiency and reduce individual risk through partnerships. Few growers have developed functioning value chains and, since retailers are often unwilling to provide purchasing commitments to small seasonal suppliers, growers cannot expand without exposing themselves to significant risk. Equipment can be very expensive and holding food in storage is costly, reducing margin, so the lack of coordinated market development has limited industry expansion.
Since it is costly and time-consuming for individual growers to obtain the food safety certification required by exporters and institutional buyers, some growers suggested studying the feasibility of a “food hub” in partnership with other Saskatchewan-based food industries.
This meeting generated considerable excitement in the industry, and it is expected that the business development committee will formulate a business plan by the end of the year.