Canadians' food costs are expected to go up by as much as five per cent in 2017, and consumers have incoming U.S. President Donald Trump at least in part to thank for the price hike, according to a recent report.
Researchers at Dalhousie University published Canada's Food Price Report last month, predicting that the average family could pay up to $420 more on food this year.
The annual report highlights a number of factors that could ultimately lead to a hit at the cash register: unpredictable weather brought on by La Niña, rising energy costs and a weakening dollar that some forecasters say could fall as low as 70 cents U.S. in 2017.
But the report also pointed to the potential impact a Trump administration could have on rising food prices above the 49th parallel.
"His campaign and rhetoric on immigration, trade and security could influence food prices both sides of the border even though not much was said about agriculture or food policies during the lengthy electoral process," the report read. "In fact, the 'Trump effect' could increase the cost of our food over the next few years."
Of primary concern is the hardline stance Trump took on illegal immigrants during his divisive campaign. If he is successful in deporting the estimated 2 million undocumented workers helping American farming operations, the consequences for U.S. agriculture — which Canada relies on to import billions of dollars worth of food each year — could be staggering.
The Trump regime will also be responsible for writing the United States' next Farm Bill, a wide-ranging piece of legislation that guides funding for the majority of federal farm and food policies.
"It is unclear how policies will take shape under a new Farm Bill under the Trump-Pence administration, but it is easy to assume that American farmers will be great beneficiaries. We could see subsidies driving commodity prices higher for a while," the report stated. "Just like the Bush administration before him, Trump has an interest in ethanol and we all remember what happened to food prices when oil was over $140 per barrel."
America's influence over food prices on this side of the border became readily apparent for many Canadians after four straight years of severe droughts in California sent produce prices soaring. This combined with low commodity prices, a devalued loonie and deficiencies in the supply chain exposed how vulnerable the Canadian market can be.
Now, researchers are worried that food prices are expected to rise between three to five per cent in 2017, above the "proverbial sweet spot" for food inflation of one to two per cent.
But one Pemberton farmer sees a silver lining to rising grocery bills: more consumers buying local.
"I think it's something that's in a way helpful to us. It's crappy in one way that the cost of food is going up, but we come from a place where we understand the true cost of food," said Sarah McMillan, co-owner of Rootdown Organic Farm. "Our prices will start to come a little bit more in line with the price of a conventional grocery-store vegetable. And the other thing is quality. Just by the very nature of being fresher and a smaller-scale local farm, the quality of our produce tends to be a lot better and therefore it starts to become more appealing (to the consumer)."