NORTH PERTH – At the Sept. 12 meeting for the Municipality of North Perth council, a finalized report titled “North Perth Agriculture Excellence Project” was presented by members of the Michael Keegan and Associates (MK&A) consulting firm for approval.
The municipality contracted the services of MK&A to create a vision and action plan towards advancing regional excellence in agriculture by building on current strengths and looking for opportunities within the sector.
The final report was presented to council via Zoom by Michael Keegan, president of MK&A, John Snobelen, an associate of MK&A, and Jessica McLean, manager of strategic initiatives for the Municipality of North Perth.
The team was tasked with creating an agricultural- specific strategic plan for the municipality. A preliminary iteration of the report was presented previously during a council meeting on June 6, where feedback and recommendations provided from council and staff were to be used in the final report.
“We set out looking for opportunities to put North Perth on the map in terms of agriculture and agro-food,” stated Keegan in the presentation.
The aim of the project was to find ways to connect the culture and historical roots of the community with a fast-transitioning municipality. The specific objectives were to identify opportunities for municipal involvement in the agricultural and agro-food sector, as well as enhancing agricultural visibility within municipal practices. The thoroughly-researched and highly-detailed report found that North Perth possesses a competitive advantage. It contains a business savvy and forward thinking agricultural community and therefore, a strong foundation to build this project upon.
“We were… certainly pleased with the strength of the existing relationship between the municipality and this sector,” explained Snobelen, “so, there’s a lot to build on here in terms of the strength of the relationship, the sophistication of the industry and the future trends.”
The final goal of the North Perth Agriculture Excellence Project report is for the municipality to embrace the vision titled “North Perth Farm and Food Forward.” It looks to the future and what challenges and opportunities may arise within this sector. It is intended to enhance the prominence of agriculture and agri-business in the municipality and strengthen the relationship between the sector, local community and municipal government.
This vision (visualized in the above diagram) is a multi-faceted plan with the main purpose to build pride in local farming and agriculture, and essentially, a “pride of place” as stated in the report. There are three core elements to this vision: positioning for success, agriculture 4.0, and capacity building.
Positioning for success aims to enhance the visibility of the agriculture sector within municipal government.
“It involves a shift in municipal approach, where agriculture and agri-business interests are elevated as core considerations in community direction and priorities,” states the report. An example given to better illustrate this point is that of the City of Hamilton and the steel industry. It considers adopting a focused relationship between municipality and industry.
Agriculture 4.0 is a rebranding of the agriculture and agri-business operations through the education of current realities of the sector. It looks at demonstrating what the sector is and its applications, regionally, provincially, nationally and internationally.
The final component of the vision is capacity building. This element focuses on expanding local capabilities to successfully implement the Farm and Food Forward vision. The vision requires the talent and resources to enable implementation and looks at enhancing capabilities within the sector, from career awareness and skill development to sector leadership.
“A key feature of building for economic prosperity with agriculture at the core involves bringing back pride to how the community collectively thinks and acts in regards to that sector,” the report reads.
The early steps that were proposed for this action plan are essentially allocating resources towards enhancing the business development experience for agriculture.
“In particular… bringing that agriculture-specific voice and perspective into the economic development planning and prioritization processes,” Keegan explained.
Following the explanation of the vision, the report then goes into the recommendations that MK&A suggest. These immediate and long-term solutions are that of: engagement; wayfinding; showcasing sector innovation; and capacity building.
The recommendation of engagement is where the municipality is encouraged to enhance the opportunity for sector-municipal connection. This happens in three steps, firstly by working with the North Perth Economic Development Advisory Committee (NPEDAC) for the plan’s effectiveness, then establishing an agriculture and agri-business advisory forum to encourage growth, and finally working with Perth County Federation of Agriculture to establish a farm tour and roundtable event.
For wayfinding, it is recommended that the municipality consider applying resources towards the establishment of centralized business, and assisting farm and agri-business entrepreneurs with regulatory requirements. Additionally, linking these services to the mandate of the NPEDAC.
Showcasing sector innovation can be obtained by creating a sector-specific PR campaign to present regional agricultural innovations, while demonstrating their importance and economic impact. Additionally, it looks at what municipal initiatives would enhance the Farm and Food Forward vision from the proposed advisory committee.
The final recommendation is on capacity building. This can be done by mentoring forward-thinking individuals within the sector, adopting an integrated approach to municipal policies and initiatives by tasking the proposed advisory committee to consistently be adopting the Farm and Food Forward vision. Additionally, it looks at current initiatives, such as the SET7 Skills and Technology North Perth and Region Learning Hub and Agriculture Science Centre to include a place for capacity building, in the sense of mentorship, training and skills development, as well as educational outreach for the agricultural sector.
There are a number of investments and initiatives that Keegan refers to as “putting skin in the game” for this sector. More substantiated investments include a brick and mortar solution, like a new processing facility or examining green energy solutions for this sector. However, the control is the municipality’s and this report is just a first step, as it succeeded in identifying the opportunities and offering recommendations.
When looking at sustainable agriculture practices, these are billion dollar investments. “So those were not the kind of projects that municipal government or even a… provincial government would have been able to sustain or make successful. And so part of what we’re looking at is what are the long-term investments that can be made, that will be successful, that will be able to generate some revenues, offset some costs sufficiently to make the investment… worthwhile,” stated Snobelen.
Concerns about the number of consultations within the community and the sector were raised by council. But MK&A assured that they have had multiple rounds of consultations with key leaders within this sector. These include farmers, agriculture organizations and community leaders to agri-food business owners, like Erie Meats and Libro Credit Union. Further, they consulted with provincial organizations, like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and members of North Perth council. They estimate they consulted with approximately 30 to 50 individuals.
When consulting with these stakeholders and leaders within the sector, it was found that the sector possesses a strong sense of pride in their business as well as in the community. They are optimistic about the prospects for this sector, have a strong willingness for collaboration, and innovate to maximize efficiency.
Overall, the report was well-received by members of council which approved the action plan, dependent on annual budget approvals. Further, it directed the NPEDAC to review the report for recommended actions and bring an additional report back to council.
“I think there’s a strong case here to say that [the] community in undertaking and embracing this plan will be stronger economically by… building on the character and the success of the industry and bringing this pride of place back to the center of thinking about what this industry is [and] what it has meant to the community,” claimed Keegan.
Melissa Dunphy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner