E-Commerce May Be Your Best Option – At Least for Now

May 1, 2020 | Marie Versteeg

E-Commerce May Be Your Best Option – At Least for Now

Ontario released its “Framework for Reopening our Province” earlier this week. The plan outlines three stages toward gradually reopening both businesses and public spaces, while also continuing to protect vulnerable populations and enforce physical distancing. However, no start date has been offered yet.

Businesses that have already adapted to public health guidance and safety requirements (like curbside pick-up or delivery) will see the earliest benefits when the process does actually begin. But right now, many farm businesses and greenhouses that are typically open to the public are still stuck in a frustrating grey area—classifying as both agriculture and retail.

Ontario has declared that, while businesses selling plants are essential, they can offer only alternative methods of sale. In contrast, a number of other provinces, including Alberta and BC, have already declared garden centres to be essential services, open to the public.

Ideally, CFFO would like to see regular farm marketing outlets, such as garden centres and farmers markets, remain open to the public—provided they can ensure social distancing protocols and other public health recommendations.

But there’s still a lot up in the air for many farmers. Some sectors, such as wholesale flower growers, have seen cancellations of huge orders. Even where alternative options like farm-gate sales exist, it’s difficult to recoup sales at that level.

On the other hand, many farm businesses that already work consumer direct and have an online marketing presence have seen business growth. This opportunity is thanks to an increased public interest in sourcing local food during the pandemic.

Public interest in local food could also be part of the reason that the federal and provincial governments are investing up to $2.5 million to help Ontario’s farm businesses get a foothold in the online market. The recently announced Agri-Food Open for E-Business initiative will help food producers, farmers markets, retailers, garden centres, greenhouses, nurseries, and agricultural associations adapt to the new circumstances we’re in.

The CAP-funded program, now open, offers grants of up to $5,000 for businesses trying to establish or expand their online presence and up to $75,000 in cost-share funding for businesses and organizations developing large-scale e-business opportunities. It’s a step in the right direction.

This week, with the release of both the “Framework for Reopening our Province” and the Agri-Food Open for E-Business initiative, the Government of Ontario has repeated its commitment to both protecting public health and supporting the economy. CFFO looks forward to continued cooperation that supports both public health and Ontario farms.

The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.