Canada’s farm machinery makers want to grow their export market in the coming years, a development they say would be a good news story for rural Canada as a whole.
“Canadian-made farm equipment is among the highest quality and most sought out in the world,” Leah Olson, president of the Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada (AMC), told the Senate agriculture committee. “In 2016, Canadian farm equipment manufacturers exported more than $1.8 billion worth of implements to 151 countries, this in spite of just over 50 per cent of agricultural equipment manufacturers being located in rural communities of less than 10,000. Some of our members are located on the family farm or in communities where the number of people the manufacturer employs is larger than the community it is in.”
One reason more than half of agriculture equipment makers are in rural communities is that places them close to the producers who “despite the harsh growing conditions in Canada, provide manufacturers with feedback on the challenges they encounter in the field,” she said.
That relationship creates a sense of innovation that is reflected in “how we manufacture and manage our day-to-day operations,” she said. “It is what drives us to develop some of the best agricultural equipment in the world.”
AMC says the federal government has a role to play, including supporting industry efforts at key international farm shows and clearing obstacles they say prevent smaller- and medium-size agricultural equipment manufacturers from reaching their full potential, Olson said.
“For example, visas and getting entry into a country more easily for business purposes,” Olson said. “Another example is supporting Export Development Canada in regions like Latin America where securing financing terms and conditions is not always feasible. Opening up international markets is integral to Canada’s innovative and sustainable future.”
AMC also said the government should consider a higher capital cost allowance for farmers, especially in light of the looming carbon tax, to allow a Canadian farmer to maintain profitability internationally.
It would enable farmers to a move to more quickly adopt the looming new technology in farming.
Equipment makers also innovate in response to the demand for a more sustainable food production, Olson said.
“With all of the focus on greener technologies, we have a unique opportunity to help to inform the green agenda and ensure that farmers continue to be recognized as the key environmentalists that they are,” Olson said. “Amongst AMC members, many are solving challenges related to fertilizer and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Olson added that in the future there’s little doubt Canadian farmers will be at the forefront managing and being stewards for healthy soil, water and air, and technological adoption is key to that.
“How we grow food today is not how we will grow it in 150, 50 or even 10 years from now,” Olson said. “As an exporter of safe and secure food, Canada’s comparative advantage globally is its agriculture industry.”
To maintain that status, “the government has to be very careful as to how it wants to proceed because if it doesn’t allow farmers to continue making profits, then they won’t be able to reinvest into equipment that helps them be good stewards of the land,” she said.
Among the challenges faced by rural employers is finding workers. Westfield, which makes grain augers in Rosenort, a half an hour outside of Winnipeg, “is bussing people from the city to come out to work because they need people to be working at the facility. It’s a great example of the sort of employment opportunities that are in rural Canada. When we look at innovation, and those manufacturers export all around the world. I know that we have a couple of members — one is in northern Alberta — and they export consistently to over 40 countries.”
Canadian agriculture machinery makers are all short lines, she said. “They are very specialized and focus on whether it’s grain handling and storage, like in Ag Growth International or Meridian or it is harvesting equipment like MacDon. They compete worldwide.”
The companies are interested in adding artificial intelligence to their products, she said. More research is required to make machines work together on their own.
“When we look at where we want to be, it would be ideal if we had more drone technology, autonomous facilities in fields because then it helps the farmers who then don’t have to rely on labour shortages and trying to fill those labour shortages,” she said.