By: Owen Roberts
Published: FCC Express, September 28, 2012

Move over Big Three – food processing and farming is now the No. 1 industry in Ontario.

So says the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors, in a new economic impact analysis study from consulting firm MNP. The study says food processing and farming in Ontario generates just over $50 billion a year in revenue, versus $43.6 billion for motor vehicle manufacturing.

Direct employment is even stronger. The 317,000 jobs represented by food processing and farming far outdistance motor vehicle manufacturing, with about a tenth as many jobs.

The report calls food processing “by far the largest manufacturing employer in the province. With close to 3,000 establishments across the province, in both rural and urban communities, its impact touches every corner of the province and cannot be overlooked.”

Since the economic downturn, it’s been suspected that recession-resistant farming and food — whose fortunes held steady through the slowdown — might have moved up the ranks to displace auto, the leading economic sector in Ontario for years. This is the first major public report to quantify that change.

The alliance is encouraged about the report’s findings. President Craig Richardson says through the economic downturn, the food and beverage processing industry not only survived, but thrived. Since 2005, it’s been distinguished by growth of about eight per cent, while other manufacturing sectors have faltered, stalled or shrunk.

“Ontario has long looked to the automotive industry to fuel the provincial economy,” he says, “but it is clear that food and beverage processing is the economic engine that drives it.”

The alliance wants this report to prompt continued and increased investment in the food processing sector. Such investment will show “solid return” on investment for Ontario taxpayers, says the alliance’s executive director Steve Peters, a former Ontario minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.

“Our industry has a proven track record of investment and growth,” he says. “This industry is far more than a little engine that could… it’s the engine that can and does, and will continue to drive our economy.”

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