British Columbia has a robust agricultural sector that generates $10.5 billion annually for the province, and Victoria intends to rev up that economic engine to $14 billion in the next five years.
That could also potentially create 61,000 direct agri-food jobs, said Norm Letnick, who was appointed as the Minister of Agriculture by Premier Christy Clark on Sept. 5.
"That's a stretch goal, but it's a realistic goal based on data provided by the [farming] industry," said Letnick, who was in Abbotsford on Monday.
He is currently touring the province, introducing himself and provincial strategies to agriculture groups, like the dairy, egg and poultry marketing boards based in the Fraser Valley.
Building on B.C.'s successful agriculture sector is part of the government's job-building plan, he said.
"There are eight different sectors and the agri-food strategy is one of them," he said.
Victoria aims to stimulate that growth by increasing exports across provincial borders to eastern Canada, with wine products, for example, and abroad to pan-Pacific nations.
Currently B.C. is making inroads to Asian markets, where it wants to see produce such as Okanagan cherries and Fraser Valley blueberries sold in China, said Letnick.
The province has also set aside $2 million for a Buy Local fund, which small businesses or groups can tap into if they have feasible marketing ideas by which to promote local foods to local consumers.
These could include in-store promotions, social media or web campaigns, smart phone apps, traditional advertising, product labels and food tourism events, such as the popular Fraser Valley Circle Farm Tours.
Successful applicants can receive matching dollars from the fund.
The qualifying criteria determined by the agriculture sector will be ready in the coming months, said Letnick.
The province has also signed on to the federal government's $3-billion Going Forward 2 bilateral economic strategy that kicks in April 1, 2013.
B.C. can expect to get $500 million of the fund, he said.
Some will be apportioned to business risk management, crop or market loss compensation in the Agri-Stability coverage, although that has decreased since the last agreement from 80 to 70 per cent of a producer's average income, known as a reference margin.
Some of those GF2 funds will also go to supporting innovation and diversity development, such as the ever-bearing strawberries that have come onto Fraser Valley markets this summer, or new blueberry varietals developed by the University of the Fraser Valley for the region's climate.
Since British Columbia is a relatively small player compared to other producing countries, it may gain some advantage by focusing on adding value to its 300 or more agricultural commodities, something companies such as Vanderpol's Eggs are doing successfully, Letnick continued.
"We are working with industry to get input as to where funding should go into innovation," he said.
More details on GF2 will be worked out by the federal and provincial agriculture ministries in the months to come.
Meanwhile, as the Harper government begins to take part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks, Letnick believes the federal government will stand on guard for supply management, which governs the Fraser Valley's dairy, egg and poultry sectors and thousands of farmers across the country.
"We support the supply management industry in British Columbia and we've reflected that to the federal government," said Letnick. "I'm not feeling right now the federal government has abandoned supply management."
Many TPP countries don't like the protectionist system because it imposes high tariffs of 200 to 300 per cent on dairy and poultry imports, and may they block Canada's participation if it refuses to change it.
Other business sectors in Canada are also lobbying the federal government to drop the supply management so they can send their commodities to Pacific Rim markets.
However, Letnick has faith the feds will support supply management. "If that tenor has changed, given our good working relationship, we would have some indication of that," he said.
He recently had a cordial visit with federal agriculture minister Jerry Ritz, and said "those lines of communication are open."