Originally published April 23, 2020 on The Western Producer
By D.C. Fraser
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture wants the federal government to prioritize food production by creating an emergency fund or financial backstop for farmers as part of its response to COVID-19.
“We must ensure Canada’s domestic food supply is secure, not only for the duration of this battle, but long into the future as well,” said CFA president Mary Robinson.
She said her organization, which represents about 200,000 farm families, does not want to create panic, but action is needed.
“It would be irresponsible not to sound the alarm about the realities Canadian farmers are facing in times of economic crisis and global uncertainty,” Robinson said during an online news conference.
Ongoing labour shortages, unpredictable global markets and increasing costs are all being raised as concerns by the CFA.
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has warned there could be changes to the way Canada’s food supply looks in coming months.
“It’s a possibility that the variety of produce that we find on our shelves might be a bit different. For a while, it’s a possibility, but I do not worry that we won’t have enough food,” she said, adding there may be changes in prices as well.
Robinson says the foundation of Canada’s food supply is at a “tipping point.”
“If we do not as a nation address the rising challenges immediately, Canadian consumers could see a decrease in the amount and variety of food at their local grocery stores, as well as higher prices in the months ahead,” she said.
Bibeau and her federal counterparts have suggested Ottawa’s response to the pandemic are aimed at supporting people and businesses who had lost their revenues or wages.
Now, according to Bibeau, “We are getting at a point to support specific sectors and food is definitely identified as a priority.”
The CFA hopes support comes in the form of financial backing.
“Canadian farmers need to hear a clear commitment from government to instill in them the necessary confidence for the 2020 planting season,” said Robinson, before calling on Canadians to contact their elected officials on the issue.
To date, the federal government has invested $50 million to support producers and processors for the impact of COVID-19 on their temporary foreign workers and $20 million to ensure inspections at processing plants continue.
The United States has committed US$19 billion to support farmers being impacted by the pandemic.