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

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

On April 13, the Canadian Federal Government announced the distribution of federal funds to assist farms in paying temporary workers. This monetary assistance helps compensate workers during the quarantine.

Canada, especially Western Canada, is grappling with the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the 2020 growing season. Western Canada accounts for over 80% of farmable land, and the industry is heavily reliant on beef and pork exports, especially to the United States. With production and processing facilities shut down, companies are experiencing complications in distribution, which may have a significant impact on the supply chain in the upcoming months.

Labour shortages are the main issue for most farms, both in the field and in processing facilities. Many enterprises are reliant on migrant farmworkers, who travel seasonally to Canada, primarily from Mexico and Jamaica. With many farms experiencing a delay in worker arrivals and a decrease in the number of workers available, perishable crops are especially susceptible to production issues down the road.

Labour Shortages

Over 60,000 temporary, seasonal workers migrate to Canada annually for employment. Many workers are employed by the same farm year after year, receiving industry-specific training from vegetable production to winemaking. For farmers who rely on this labor, the past few weeks have been incredibly difficult. Especially when dealing with perishable crops, labor shortages can be the deciding factor in a crop’s. For one farmer, a field of asparagus is worth $40,000. But without the necessary labor to harvest, the crop will go to waste.

Labour shortages in Canadian agriculture are especially tricky because there is no natural alternative. Many farmers already express frustration with the system, since the main reason they employ temporary migrant workers is because it is nearly impossible to find Canadians who want the job. Agricultural labor can be incredibly hard work and involves significant training.

Trained employees are familiar with all aspects of the business, including the proper use of equipment, which can be a tricky skill to master. As unemployment rises in response to COVID-19 business shutdowns, it may seem like an obvious solution to employ people on farms. But most people lack the skills necessary, and farmers do not have the time or resources to train them quickly.

New Funding

As a possible solution, the Canadian Federal Government proposed new funding to assist farms struggling with income disruption as a result of the pandemic. However, the effectiveness of the bailout is debatable. Many farmers argue that it is not enough to make a difference. The money is supposed to help pay workers during the shutdown, specifically workers who have recently arrived and are in quarantine.

Because all incoming employees are subject to a two week isolation period, farms are responsible for supplying resources until work can begin. However, migrant worker activists argue that the funds may be misused, allowing farmers to collect the money without providing adequate income for workers. The distribution method may assist farms in the short term, but it is questionable as to how much it will help in the upcoming weeks.

Production Issues

It is still too early to tell the severity of the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian food production. Certain crops, like wheat and soy, are already operated in industrial systems, requiring minimal human contact. However, fruit and vegetable farmers are warning of production issues if they continue to struggle to find workers. Similarly, in the meat industry, beef processing facilities, like Cargill, may struggle to keep up with demand amidst closures.

Before the announcement of new funds for temporary workers, the Canadian Federal Government had initially temporarily banned incoming migrant workers. This decision was quickly reversed due to outcry from Canadian farmers. While the monetary assistance is significant for farm businesses in the short term, more lasting solutions to the labour shortage problem will be required. Without enough workers, Canada is subject to an incredibly volatile market, where production and distribution issues may impact food supply both domestically and internationally.

Next Steps for Canadian Agriculture

The Canadian Federal Government is taking measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on agriculture, primarily through the distribution of emergency funds to support farmers during the shutdown. Additional solutions, such as alternative labour resources, are also being considered. However, there has been a mixed response to these efforts.

Some farmers feel like the aid is not enough, while others think that the solutions do not apply to them. Additionally, there has been a growing concern by some activist groups concerning the rights of migrant workers. As the situation unfolds, the role of the Canadian Federal Government will be essential to limiting supply chain disruption and production issues in the next few months.

Read more from Emily Folk

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.  You can read more of my work by clicking this link:   Conservation Folks.

 

I’m Emily Folk, and I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up I had a love of animals, and after countless marathons of watching Animal Planet documentaries, I developed a passion for ecology and conservation.

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Agriculture

Olymel temporarily closes due to COVID-19

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This is a news release from Olymel L.P.

Olymel announces the temporary closing of its Red Deer plant

Olymel management is announcing the temporary closing of its hog slaughtering, cutting and deboning plant in Red Deer, Alberta. Despite the testing protocols and sanitary measures already in place, as well as the close collaboration of Alberta Health Services to deal with a resurgence of positive cases of Covid-19 among plant employees, Olymel management believes that the conditions are no longer assembled to continue normal operations in a safe and efficient manner.

After notifying the union, Olymel management drew up an orderly temporary closing plan for an indefinite period. Over the next few days, plant management will mobilize the staff necessary to cease operations and complete the facility closure as soon as possible. The sanitary measures will continue to be in effect at the plant during the shutdown and Olymel management will be in contact with officials at Alberta Health Services to continue working closely with this organization.

Olymel sincerely hopes that all employees at the Red Deer plant who have tested positive for Covid-19 soon regain their health. The company will follow up with all employees to ensure their quarantine period is being respected and will strongly encourage all staff to get tested before returning to work. Olymel will also continue ongoing investigations to determine what may have caused such a large outbreak of Covid-19 cases since January 20.

Olymel management has also informed all hog suppliers of the Red Deer plant of the situation and has suspended all pending deliveries until further notice.

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Agriculture

What’s going on in India?

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In many places around the world, the global turmoil of 2020 has been deeply exacerbated by accompanying political violence. The United States, Belarus, and India are just a few locations that have faced growing levels of internal violence and discord as political protests have led to dangerous clashes between citizens and governing bodies. 

In India, where the COVID-19 pandemic has been rampant throughout the course of 2020, citizens have also experienced ongoing political uncertainty as recent protests against the Narendra Modi government have been met with violence. 

Prime Minister Narenda Modi

The upheaval began in August in response to the Modi government’s decision to pass 3 reform laws that would negatively impact local farmers in India’s agricultural sector. The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, the Farmers Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential Commodities Bill were passed on September 20, 2020. These laws, which were allegedly hurried through parliament with little to no regard for the concerns expressed by existing farming organizations in India, serve to ease corporate restrictions and remove regulations put in place to protect farmers and their product. 

Although there does appear to be a consensus surrounding the need for reform in India’s agricultural sector, the laws passed by the Modi government have been condemned for failing to meet the requirements of a fair, legitimate transition. According to Time, “While the government says the new laws will “empower farmers”, unions say the rule changes are not policies they have asked for. Instead they fear that instead of trying to help farmers, the government is opening the door to big corporations who may eventually force them off their land and out of their business.” 

Peaceful protests then emerged as a public response to the actions of the Modi government. The protests, which originated in Punjab and Haryana as a collaborative movement among Indian farmers, have since mobilized tens of thousands of farmers and supporters from across the country to march on the Indian capital. The protestors flooded New Delhi’s main entry points, where they have since set up camps to maintain their position and stand firmly for their cause, requesting the repeal of the 3 reform bills. 

Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, where many of the participants are senior members of the community, since September they have been increasingly met with violence from the state. “Protestors have been met with water cannons on some of the coldest winter days Delhi has experienced,” Global News reported in December, “along with tear gas, concrete barricades, and some were even beaten with batons.” As a result of state-mandated violence and harsh outdoor conditions in Delhi, a total of 65 deaths were reported between November 26, 2020 and January 3, 2021 (1).
Individuals and organizations around the world have since come forward to stand in solidarity with Indian farmers and condemn the acts of violence being perpetrated against them by military and law enforcement. 

On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, the Indian Supreme Court announced it was “halting the market-friendly laws until a committee of experts, appointed by the court, could consult with government officials and protesting farmers to try to find a solution to the dispute” (2). However, protestors have expressed initial skepticism following this announcement, and intend to maintain their positions within the protest camps until the laws are repealed. 

“It’s cold and it’s hard to arrange water every morning for a bath,” says Shabek Singh, a member of the protests who remains camped in one of the established tent cities, “but we’re not going anywhere. We will make this our temple” (3).

 

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

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