Murad Al Katib president and CEO of AGT Food and Ingredients
Murad Al-Katib gives his keynote address during the Canadian Global Crops Symposium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Susan Reidy. 
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA — Value-added will be key to the success of the Canadian agriculture industry in the future, including more food processing, said Murad Al-Katib, president and chief executive officer of AGT Food and Ingredients, Inc.

Al-Katib addressed the issue of building Canada’s reputation during his keynote address at the Canadian Global Crops Symposium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The three-day event concludes March 28.

“In 10 years, we will be serving a different consumer base than Canadian agriculture is serving today,” he said. “That consumer base is going to be toward more value added.”

Canola should be the model of success, he said. The joining of research, innovation and then the building of domestic crush capacity has transformed Canada from being a canola seed exporter to an exporter of meal and oil.

“I think the same thing can happen in wheat and I think the same thing can happen in pulses,” Al-Katib said.

Currently, the nation has an underdeveloped value chain, and only processes 50% of its agriculture inputs.

“We lack investment in processing infrastructure,” he said. “Government spending on risk management has kind of been the focus. The government has been investing where there is market failure and not investing where we are attempting to boost our productivity and enhance technology.”

A food policy framework is being developed as part of the government’s Economic Table Strategies. Al-Katib is also chair of the National Agri-Food Strategy Roundtable.

Canada already has many of the components needed for a successful food processing industry, including transportation.

“The availability of containers and intermodal in Canada have changed favorably as a result of the fact imports are coming in from Asia and we are part of the backhaul,” Al-Katib said.

It costs the same to haul a hopper car from Regina to Toronto as it would to move food product by intermodal to anywhere in the United States, he said.

However, the agriculture industry also faces its share of obstacles, Al-Katib said, such as trade barriers and regulations.

“Until we recognize and we secure preferential access through trade agreements, we’re going to be in trouble,” he said. “All of the things that we’re struggling with in countries like India today would be subjects of a comprehensive trade agreement. We need to continue to urge that type of movement.”

As part of its Economic Table Strategies, Al-Katib said regulatory reform and regulatory barrier reduction will have a strong focus.

“It will not only be fore agriculture, but it will be a cross-cutting theme across all sectors,” he said.

Canada has several advantages that will give it an edge over the competition, including abundant natural resources, a strong network of research and development facilities and a diverse consumer base that stimulates product development, Al-Katib said.

The nation also has a history of being an early adopter of technology.

“The ability to implement technology on large scale farms is one of our advantages in our sector,” he said. “Try doing that on one-acre farms in another area of the world. That becomes one of the big opportunities we have along with our political stability and our good will.”