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Agrifoods Sector: Resilient & Adaptive

British Columbia’s cozy spot next to the ocean equates to a mild climate with fertile grounds. This has been the driving force that has created a diverse agriculture and food sector, with a plethora of seafood species, hundreds of farm, fish and food products and a world-renowned wine industry. COVID-19 has disrupted the supply chains and business plans of many agri-businesses in recent months. Federal, provincial and municipal governments, working with industry associations, are putting in strong efforts is to assist affected businesses and to help these companies adapt to business models that will help them thrive in the new normal.

Programs for Agri-business Companies

The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a five-year, $3 billion investment from federal, provincial and territorial governments to strengthen the agriculture and agri-food sector. One program under the Partnership is  the B.C. Agrifood and Seafood Market Development Program, which helps British Columbia agriculture and food companies to develop marketing skills and plans with a focus on exports. This includes participation in domestic and international trade shows to reach new potential buyers.

COVID-19 is presenting major challenges to the industry, including generating the need for social distancing measures at all levels of the food and beverage supply chains. In partnership with the Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia (IAF) the federal government started a new Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund to help British Columbia and Canadian fish and seafood processors with new safety rules and to adapt to the market during this pandemic. Another pandemic recovery effort, the Emergency Processing Fund, supports food processors and greenhouse operators in Canada as they work to maintain food supply while adhering to new health and safety protocols.

Provincial funding also injected $550,000 into a new Buy BC E-Commerce Fund to help the industry remain resilient and adapt to the digital economy. The funding helps local agri-businesses connect with buyers throughout the province. This program is currently supporting over 100 e-commerce projects – helping beef, berry, poultry and honey producers, as well as food and beverage processors reach new and existing customers on-line.

Trends in the Agriculture and Food Sector

While the province has many primary agriculture suppliers, supplying products like cherries and honey, there are also quite a few innovators in the agrifoods industry filling niches in the market. Plant-based food is becoming more popular in recent years. The Insights West study on food and diet trends in Canada shows that while many British Columbians continue to enjoy local meat and seafood, they are lowering their meat consumption and embracing a plant-based lifestyle more than other provinces. Boasting of their magic beans, The Very Good Butchers opened the first plant-based butchery in Victoria. They now sell “plant-based meat boxes” that ship within Canada and to the United States. Another growing trend is producing food that is allergy-free. Wise Bites, based in Richmond, produces snacks such as cookie bars and muffins that are packed with protein and fibre, while being free of the eleven most common allergies and sensitivities.

Farm, fish, food and beverages in British Columbia enjoy an international reputation for high food safety standards and have a favourable location for international shipping. The industry is flexible and resilient and is working on a sound and sustainable economic recovery from the global crisis.
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