Canada’s Feedlots Facing an Uncertain Future
The coronavirus has taken a huge toll on the North American meat industry. As the virus continues to claim the lives of workers and workplace conditions become unsafe, many meat processing plants simply haven’t been able to adequately staff their facilities. Subsequently, many plants and feedlots — including leading brands in Alberta — have temporarily shut down operations.
Other big names that haven’t experienced outbreaks in their facilities have managed to remain open or at least reopen and function at a lower capacity. However, even these cattle feedlots and processing plants are facing an uncertain future as the pandemic drags on.
A Dip in Demand
In addition to facility outbreaks, a dip in demand for pork, poultry and beef has also resulted in major setbacks for feedlots and slaughterhouses. Since officials issued stay-at-home orders three months ago, restaurants and butchers haven’t been ordering as much meat from big-industry meat processors. Instead, with no guests to serve or customers to whom they might sell prime cuts, these businesses have dramatically cut their orders.
Of course, the meat industry wasn’t expecting this sudden decrease in demand. As cows continued to birth calves and inventory built up in feedlots, these companies were left with no other choice than to cull thousands of animals per day and discard the carcasses. Obviously, this represents a massive amount of waste as well as a huge loss of profit.
Many small farmers and large industrial developments also worry they’ll lose money this fall when it comes time to sell calves. These cow-calf operations usually generate a decent amount of revenue when the economy is good. In light of recent events, however, market conditions aren’t exactly prime for selling calves.
Moreover, as feedlots reach and exceed maximum capacities, the animals will most likely become more anxious. This increase in stress levels will negatively impact their immune systems and, ultimately, the quality of meat that comes from them. Consequently, this fall’s herd may not be as healthy as the last, meaning they’ll sell for much less and leave feedlots and meat processors in the red.
Assistance and Adjustments
Early last month, the Canadian government announced it would provide $252 million in federal assistance to the agri-food sector. The vast majority of this federal aid will go to processing plants in hopes of better-protecting workers and helping facilities function at full capacity once again. Still, as long as demand is low, it’s unlikely the industry will bounce back quickly — even with financial assistance. At best, this money will help keep the industry afloat until restaurants and eateries fully reopen.
Additionally, meat processing plants that have remained open or resumed operations are beginning to consciously cut their inventory and production output to meet the decrease in demand. While this will help the meat industry, it may cause issues for fast-food chains and restaurants that may experience shortages as a result.
Is the Worst Yet to Come?
Over the past few weeks, some major meat processors and cattle feedlots have begun to reopen. Already, they’re back to processing 60,000 cattle per week. However, prices aren’t rising for consumers, thus showcasing the resiliency of the Canadian food system. In the coming months, bottlenecks should stop and business should be able to return to normal — as long as a second and third wave of coronavirus cases don’t sweep the nation.
In the future, the meat industry might invest more in expanding local and regional food supply chains. This way, if Cargill, National Beef, JBS and Tyson — which own more than 80% of the beef supply — shut down again, small ranchers could provide meat for their communities. Thus, the industry wouldn’t face such an uncertain future if another pandemic were to occur.
Why Canadians Should Care About Land Loss
Why Canadians Should Care About Land Loss
Developments are increasingly taking over Canadian farmland. Farms once took up much of Canadian land. However, that case is not true today. Only about 5% of Canada’s land is considered prime farmland. This prime land borders one of Canada’s fastest-growing regions, and once suburban development overtakes it, Canadian farmers will have a challenging time providing food for the cities.
Farmers in Canada make their livelihood by planting, growing, harvesting and distributing food to the Canadian populations. Without land, both farmers and the rest of those living in Canada will not get fresh, Canadian grown produce.
Here are some reasons why Canadian farmers should care about land loss:
- Farmland Provides Food
While this is an apparent reason, it’s an essential one. Prime farmland in Canada produces food for major Canadian cities. As farmers continue to lose land, they have to rely on a smaller acreage to make the same amount of food — if not more — for the growing population.
Over the past 10 years, almost 1 million hectares of agricultural land has diminished due to development and growing populations. Agriculture continues to adapt to land loss. However, further technological advancements must first take place to grow enough produce vertically rather than horizontally.
- Land Preservation Will Help the Economy
Farmland preservations come with a wealth of economic benefits. Agriculture contributes to the economy through the following ways:
- Sales: For the economy to survive, there needs to be consumer demands and sales. Almost everyone purchases produce, so there will always be a demand for those goods. Without land to grow agricultural products, no sales will be made, and the economy could suffer.
- Job opportunities: Less than 2% of Canada’s population works in the agriculture industry. While it’s not much, that’s still over 750,000 people. Preserving farmland shows a commitment to the industry. Land loss would create job loss. However, maintaining the farmland — and even reclaiming it, along with pastures — could boost the sector and, therefore, the economy. It would provide unemployed people with job security.
- Secondary markets: Farmers are just one part of the food business. Because of farmers and farmland, secondary markets can thrive. These would include processing businesses, restaurants, schools, grocery stores and even waste management companies.
Canadian farmers should care about land loss because standing back and allowing companies to overtake the farmland could seriously affect the economy.
- Farmland Benefits the Environment
Wildlife often depends upon farmland for both food and habitat. Various types of farmland create diverse habitats for many different species. Without land protection, these habitats and food sources would be destroyed, leaving many animals without a place to survive. Many would have difficulty finding a native habitat.
Additionally, growing crops helps eliminate some of the carbon dioxide released into the air. Air pollution could decrease for Canadian cities as long as no more farmland is used for development.
One major problem occurring with Canadian farmland is desertification. This happens when the soil loses nutrients and becomes barren. The urbanization of Canadian farmland is the primary contributor to desertification, which speeds up climate change and harms the environment. Keeping farmland as-is will slow down climate change.
- Land Loss Affects Farmers’ Jobs
Perhaps the main reason why Canadian farmers should care about land loss is because their livelihood could be taken away. If they don’t have the means to keep up with technological advancements in the agricultural industry, they will not be able to continue their jobs if they experience land loss.
Agriculture is an essential industry. Not everyone can pick up the skills needed to grow their own food, and so many people depend upon farmers for nutrition and goods.
Take a Stand to Preserve Farmland
Farmland is a worthwhile and precious resource for many people. Reduction in farmland acreage will hurt Canadian farmers and the rest of the population, the economy and the environment. Taking steps to prevent more land loss can slow the rates of destruction and keep natural habitats thriving for both humans and animalls.
Click here read more stories by 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.
Federal Government Examines Living Conditions for Thousands of Foreign Workers
Canada Improving Foreign Worker Living Conditions
The Canadian agricultural economy relies heavily on foreign and migrant workers for its continued prosperity. While there has been a call to take action and overhaul the foreign worker program for years now, the pandemic has pushed those priorities even further. Living conditions have long been in need of change, but the government is now looking to seriously improve the conditions for these workers — primarily from a public health perspective.
While some actions have already been put in place — such as consultations with industry leaders, provinces and territories as well as foreign workers themselves — we’re still in the beginning stages of the consistent change that needs to happen in order to thoroughly improve living conditions.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept all around the world, it specifically highlighted some of the shortcomings of the current system for Canadian foreign workers in terms of health and safety. By June 2020, hundreds of Canadian agricultural workers were infected on the job, causing two fatalities.
Since many of Canada’s foreign agricultural workers rely on consistent income from their often labor-intensive jobs maintaining farms and equipment, they can’t afford to miss work, even if they’re sick. Staying home may not be much better. Housing for foreign workers keeps everyone in close quarters. Housing standards are often inconsistent, leaving many workers in cheap communal units that work as a perfect breeding ground for the virus.
Even many workers who needed to quarantine described being kept in conditions that didn’t allow for social distancing and didn’t provide adequate supplies for the required length of the quarantine. Since reports vary and standards tend to be inconsistent, it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between the government’s vision and the reality of the living conditions these workers are facing.
The government understands that things are in need of change. Although there has been a push for improvements in the past, the pandemic has made clear just how unsightly the living conditions are. As a start, the Government of Canada is seeking input until 22 December 2020 on proposed requirements for foreign worker living conditions.
While this is a move in the right direction, requirements only make a difference if they are upheld, and that will be the key to ensuring conditions are actually maintained and improved. It’s about consistency on a municipal and local level, not just federal regulations.
Mexico Halting Foreign Workers To Canada
For now, Mexico has halted their foreign workers from coming to Canada — specifically as a result of the deaths associated with foreign worker COVID-19 outbreaks. While this doesn’t change the conditions for those already living in Canada, it did stop over 5,000 new workers from entering the country over the summer. Mexico’s ambassador to Canada maintains that this is an action of solidarity with Canada.
What Needs To Change?
While policy changes and new requirements are important to the equation, those requirements and policies need more regulation in order to uphold them on a local level. There also needs to be a push towards better working and living conditions for foreign workers on the whole — not just in terms of residencies.
Reducing the number of hours these workers spend on the job, paying them better wages and providing them with universal health care are all changes that would benefit the health and safety of foreign workers — and incentivize workers to stay home if they’re sick. They are an integral part of the Canadian economy, and they deserve better rights and conditions.
Making Steady Improvements
Although the Canadian government is just now beginning to make strides towards improving conditions for their foreign workers, they’re definitely heading in the right direction. From here, things will look up as long as they remain committed and make sure they keep human rights a priority.
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