A stag stands in a neck high field of canola north of Cremona, Alta., on July 31, 2011. The agriculture and agri-food industry contributes over $110 billion annually to Canada's gross domestic product, and has been identified as one of Canada's key growth sectors. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Toronto summit to discuss Canada’s role as world food supplier

Dozens of Canadian and international experts will gather in Toronto Tuesday for a one-day conference that will discuss Canada’s role as one of the world’s key breadbaskets and the need for a national agricultural skills strategy.

This year’s Arrell Food Summit, hosted by the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute, will focus on the growing shortage of skilled workers in the agri-food sector, Canada’s branding initiative for safe and sustainable food, institutional food and planetary health, and equitable food systems.

The conference, at the Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto, is expected to attract about 175 agri-food experts from across Canada, including food producers and processors, civil servants, entrepreneurs and academics, according to a press release by the University of Guelph.

Evan Fraser, AFI director and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security, said the summit will bring together diverse experts to talk about Canada’s role as a trusted world food supplier.

“As Canada’s food university, we want to ensure we play a central role in the national and international discussion,” Fraser said in a statement.

Darci Vetter, former chief agricultural trade negotiator and deputy undersecretary at the U.S Department of Agriculture, will deliver the keynote speech at the conference.

John Stackhouse, senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at RBC in Toronto and former editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail newspaper, will discuss the RBC’s 2019 report about new skills needed for farming.

Called Farmer 4.0, the report projects a shortage of 123,000 agricultural workers in Canada by 2030, particularly as older farmers retire and fewer young people take up farming.

The summit will also focus on developing sustainable, healthy and equitable food systems to meet the challenge of feeding the planet. The session will be led by renowned University of Saskatchewan plant scientist Leon Kochian and Andy Du Plessis, managing director of FoodForward South Africa, a not-for-profit organization.

Kochian and FoodForward South Africa received the 2019 Arrell Global Food Innovation Awards in October for their work on fighting hunger in South Africa.

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