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Livestock production helps municipalities drive economies

 

Today, many municipal and regional governments are looking for ways to maximize economic activity. In areas where urban expansion continues to consume farmland, governments grapple with the challenge of how to grow and expand their agri-food sectors as the productive land base slowly dwindles.

When it comes to the business of agriculture and food, economic growth strategies often focus on further processing and producing high-value crops. While both of these strategies are winners, the livestock sector, and its economic muscle, often flies below the radar when governments craft their growth and expansion plans.

Ontario’s Middlesex County is a good example of the strength of livestock production. Synthesis recently completed the County of Middlesex Agriculture Strategy Report and Recommendations and the findings are certainly encouraging. In Middlesex, the agri-food sector generates $1.2 billion annually in economic impact and is the largest employer, accounting for 15.2% of employment.

Of course, processing and high-value crops, make a significant contribution to these numbers, but a closer look at what’s happening behind the farm gate provides a greater appreciation of livestock’s economic impact. In 2013, livestock and poultry accounted for 48% of the County’s farm cash receipts, and the economic outlook for all the contributing segments – from beef to hogs and supply managed (dairy, poultry and eggs) – ranges from stable to strong.

As is evidenced in the Middlesex report, it’s important to note that livestock creates significant additional economic value compared to producing field crops on the same land base. As one hog producer noted in a focus group discussion, his total sales were six times higher because of livestock production. He could make a good living growing crops, but his decision to produce hogs increases economic output and activity on the same land base. With a significant need for more services and inputs – from truckers to vets, feed, labour and more – livestock operations generate significant economic activity.

With these insights, one of the key recommendations in the Middlesex report is for municipal government to adopt strategies to support the livestock sector. That can be a challenge in a region where a growing urban centre exerts pressure on farming, but it can be done.

For Middlesex County, the first step is having a full understanding of the economic impact of the agri-food sector.

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