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Agriculture

Climate change to push food prices higher, report predicts up to 4% hike in 2020

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The average Canadian family will pay up to an extra $487 on feeding themselves next year, according to an annual food price report that highlights climate change as a major culprit for rising food prices, especially in the produce department.

Unexpected snowstorms, droughts and other weather events have impacted crops and food prices in the past, said Simon Somogyi, lead researcher from the University of Guelph.

But for 2020, he and others behind the report highlight climate change as the cause.

“We’re deliberately pointing out that, you know: climate change is causing the droughts, is causing the bad snowstorms that’s impacting prices,” he said.

The report calls the impact of changing weather patterns on our food systems through droughts, forest fires, heavy precipitation, reduced freshwater access and rising sea levels “the elephant in the room” for 2020.

“Canadian farmers will face challenges in the future dealing with unpredictable crop yields, heat-wave livestock threats, pasture availability, and pest and disease outbreaks,” reads the report from researchers at Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph.

That link between climate change and food prices comes along with a forecast that the average Canadian family will spend $12,667 on food at grocery stores and restaurants in 2020.

That’s two to four per cent more than in 2019 — thought the researchers expect it to be closer to the top end of that range. It’s the second-highest prediction since 2013. It’s outdone only by an anticipated three to five per cent, or $420, rise for the year 2017. The algorithm provides a two-per cent range for the national forecast.

The expected rise in food prices comes as Canadians face relatively steady inflation. The consumer price index rose 1.9 per cent year-over-year in October, according to Statistics Canada — the same increase as the previous two months. Increases have remained below 2.5 per cent since Sept. 2018.

Next year, researchers expect price increases in all eight food categories they track with the biggest jump — four to six per cent — in meat.

Pork prices will likely lead that ascent due to the African Swine Fever outbreak in China roiling pork markets.

Food sold at restaurants, as well as seafood and vegetables, will likely see the next biggest price increases in 2020. The report estimates a jump of two to four per cent in those three categories. The estimated rise in vegetable prices comes after a staggering 12 per cent increase for the 12 months ended Sept. 2019. Much of that double-digit jump Somogyi attributes to climate change.

Storms and other weather events wreak havoc on logistics, he said. They can slow down transportation, for example, and create a shortage that results in higher prices.

A hotter climate is one factor behind an increase in bacterial outbreaks such as E. coli, Somogyi said, as hotter temperatures and unpredictable heat waves increase bacterial growth. In recent years, multiple E. coli outbreaks prompted grocers to pull romaine lettuce off their shelves and restaurants to stop serving the leafy green. That tends to drive up prices for alternatives, like spinach.

Produce prices also trend up because Canada imports vast amounts of its food as the colder weather in the country limits what can be grown. Imported goods can fluctuate in price due to trade issues creating slowdowns at borders or weather events impacting delivery logistics.

Food trends can also prompt big swings. This year, celery costs skyrocketed partly due to a fad diet based on purported health benefits of celery juice. In May, one major Canadian grocer advertised celery stalks for $5.99 online — compared to a more typical, roughly $3 per kilogram cost for much of the years prior to April 2018, when Statistics Canada stopped tracking the vegetable.

It’s difficult to put a number on how much of the anticipated 2020 food price increase comes from climate change, said Somogyi, but it is responsible for “the bulk” of last year’s vegetable sticker shock. In the case of the catapulting celery costs, months of unseasonably cold weather and heavy rainfall in California created supply issues.

But the stability of food supply isn’t climate change’s sole casualty, as it sparks changes to demand too, said Sylvain Charlebois, lead author from Dalhousie University.

“People, when they think about food, they see the planet on their dinner plates much more so than ever before,” he said.

Younger generations especially decide what to eat in part by looking at the environmental impact of their meals, said Charlebois, and turn more toward full or partial plant-based diets. Fast-food chains and manufacturers raced to stock and create products to feed this demographic with Beyond Meat and Lightlife alternatives now ubiquitous at restaurants across Canada.

Somogyi anticipates climate change will continue to boost food prices, particularly in categories where Canada relies heavily on imports, unless big changes occur.

In particular, he’d like to see a national food policy that focuses on producing more high-cost items, like many vegetables, in Canada through vertical and indoor farming. That would reduce time to market, costs and risks of bacterial outbreaks, he said.

“If we maintain our current food, Canadian food distribution structure, I can see that happening each year — four per cent, 10 per cent, 15 per cent,” he said.

The federal government released a long-awaited food policy in June 2019 — the first in Canada — after starting public consultations in 2017. It addressed four significant areas for short- and long-term action to support the policy’s goals. These include boosting community access to healthy food, making Canadian food a top choice domestically and internationally, supporting food security in Northern and Indigenous communities and reducing food waste.

Certain initiatives announced as part of the food policy could support vertical or indoor farming, said Agriculture Canada spokesman James Watson in an email.

The department is also exploring vertical and container agriculture beyond the food policy, he said, pointing to a Aug. 2017 workshop it held where experts identified research and development needs in this area.

“Vertical and greenhouse production show potential for increasing food security (particularly in remote areas of Canada), decreasing transportation costs and increased health for Canadians.”

Agriculture Canada is working with others to optimize these farming systems so they can complement traditional ones, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4 2019.

Follow @AleksSagan on Twitter.

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Agriculture

Is the Meat Industry Equipped to Handle a Pandemic?

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Is the Meat Industry Equipped to Handle a Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted industries across the world. One of the main sectors that’s concerning experts is the meat and agriculture industry. This concern intensifies in Western Canada since much of the land there is farmland. The imbalance of supply and demand is affecting present-day agricultural production. However, farmers and industry leaders are focused on what is still to come in the future.

From labour shortages to potential outbreaks during production, the future of the meat industry is unclear. The outcome will depend on several factors: government aid, the spread of the virus and COVID-19’s behaviour — which is often unpredictable. Ultimately, the present handling of the meat industry may impact its future and relationship with consumers.

Current Standing

The Government of Canada recently decided to assist farms across the country with federal funding. These farms rely on the production and exportation of meats like beef, pork and chicken to reach supply and demand needs. However, as the virus continues spreading, farmworkers need to maintain physical distance and increase sanitation practices. The government’s funding will compensate workers during this time.

For Canada, part of the stress on the industry comes from the exportation needs. While farmers need to meet country-wide demands, Canada is also an international exporter, especially for the United States.

While the industry is currently suffering from labour shortages, production remains relatively stable. Farmers are adapting to meet new supply and demand requirements. For instance, since restaurants are closing, demands for certain foods, like cheese, will decrease. As workers fall ill and farms need to enforce social distancing, though, production is slowing down.

The funding from Canada’s federal government is supposed to help workers, especially those who are newly arriving. Migrants from Mexico and the Caribbean make up a large portion of Canada’s agricultural workforce. However, whether this funding will be enough is yet to come to light. Additionally, ensuring the even distribution of that money to migrant workers is another issue.

The Industry’s Future

Many experts are focusing on the road ahead. While the current path is fluctuating, the future may hold a more dangerous outcome for the industry. If the virus continues spreading at its current rate, farms may see more issues than ever before.

One of the main factors is the labour shortage. Currently, Canada’s farming labour force is lacking. Production is slow, and workers don’t have the resources and help they need to meet demands. In the future, this could worsen as fewer employees are available. For instance, the poultry sector faces significant demands every day. Part of the process of raising chickens includes weeks of tending to them. If there aren’t enough people to do this job, consumers will see the availability of chicken drop.

The issue of perishables will also present itself. As meat processing must be quick, slower production means more goods will go to waste. Meeting supply and demand requires healthy workers to keep the chain going.

The other major factor that will affect the industry is the spread of the virus. That depends on how the Canadian government handles COVID-19 and how efficiently people practice social distancing. Federal funding will aid production, but if the virus remains present, it will continue spreading. If it reaches processing plants, contamination will become a more serious issue than it already is.

Next Steps

To increase resources and support for farmers and migrant workers, the government will need to provide more emergency funding. This step allows the agriculture industry to invest in more tools, sanitation products, financial support and benefits for all workers. Monitoring the spread of the virus is also crucial. If the government can properly track and isolate cases, COVID-19 will dwindle in its effects. Then, meat industry workers will not have to worry about contracting or spreading the coronavirus.

Canadian Federal Government Taking Measures to Reduce Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

 

 

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Agriculture

Calgary English Stirrup Manufacturer Launches Fundraising Campaign to Help Alberta SPCA

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Calgary English Stirrup Manufacturer Launches Fundraising Campaign to Help Alberta SPCA

April 18, 2020, Calgary, AB

PEAK Equestrian is a Calgary-based manufacturer and seller of angled English stirrup irons. They’ve joined forces with the Alberta SPCA to help horse and other animal owners keep their animals safe, healthy and fed during this difficult time.

From every pair of Peak Stirrups sold through Peak Equestrian’s website, by phone, email or direct message, $10.00 will be donated to the Alberta SPCA. Email: [email protected] or call 403.230.0113 to get involved.

The donated funds will go towards helping horse and domestic pet owners who are struggling to pay for hay or other feed as a direct or indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company’s hope is to raise a minimum of $10,000 for this important cause.

“We are passionate about animals,” said Claire Goddard, sales and marketing director with Peak Equestrian. “We want to help horse owners and pet owners keep their animals at home instead of having to surrender them to the Alberta SPCA or worry about not being able to feed them because they can’t afford to.”

“Rather than seeing horse and other animal owners worry about feeding their animals when they are struggling financially and feeling like they have no other choice but to surrender their animals, the Alberta SPCA wants to work with animal owners to make sure owners have enough food for their pets and livestock,” said Dan Kobe, Communications Manager with Alberta SPCA.

“If horse owners or pet owners are having trouble sourcing and paying for feed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they can contact us at albertaspca.org/helpforanimals, and we will donate dog and cat food as needed, and will even source and donate hay and other livestock feed until the grass begins to grow,” he added. “Donating part of the sales from our stirrups feels like the right thing to do,” said Craig Goddard, president and design specialist at Peak Equestrian. “We are horse owners ourselves and we know how hard it can be to take care of animals during this difficult time, especially livestock, so we are happy to donate to such a great cause.”

Peak Equestrian is a new start-up company under Corma Industries, a Calgary-based manufacturer. Learn more here.

The Alberta SPCA is a registered charity dedicated to the welfare of animals. The organization encourages the humane treatment of animals through enforcement of animal protection legislation and through education programs throughout Alberta. The society works closely with other agencies in animal welfare, agriculture, education, violence prevention and other areas to provide the best level of protection for animals.

Alberta SPCA Offers “Help For Animals”

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