TORONTO, Ontario – BMO Bank of Montreal recognized an important milestone Canadian consumers reached on Feb. 12 – Food Freedom Day 2011. According to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, this day was the calendar date by which the average Canadian will have earned enough money to pay for groceries for the entire year.

Canadians spend an average of just more than $7,000 (US$6,997) on food annually, which is approximately 10% of household expenditures. That compares to $5,700 (US$5,698) (11.4% of household expenditures) in 1997.

In comparison, food consumption accounts for 45% of household expenses in Indonesia, 39% in China, and over 13% in the United States, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In Egypt, food inflation has risen above 20%, with the price of common food items such as tomatoes surging as much as 300% last year. The price for a kilogram of meat has risen to as much as one-third of a monthly wage.

BMO Economics expects a moderate increase in food prices for Canadians, looking to the year ahead,.

"The agriculture sector should experience solid growth over the next two years," said Kenrick Jordan, senior economist, BMO Capital Markets. "The prices of grains and oilseeds, which have soared lately, should remain fairly strong over the medium term as a result of low inventories, healthy demand from developing countries, and continuing expansion of the global biofuels industry. This should be a constructive environment for crop production."

Meat demand is expected to grow at a brisk rate. As incomes increase, populations in developing countries are enriching and broadening their diets. This should be a positive development for the livestock sub-sector.

Canada is the world's fourth-largest agriculture exporter and sixth largest importer, accounting for a combined $65 billion in global trade. The agriculture and agri-food sector plays an important role in the Canadian economy, employing one in eight jobs directly and accounting for 8.1% of total GDP, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Local farmers' markets are responsible for more than $1 billion in sales and have a total economic affect of more than $3 billion.