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.
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.
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.
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.
Avian flu causing turkey shortage ahead of Christmas: BC Poultry Association
By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver
The avian flu is causing a turkey shortage in British Columbia, the BC Poultry Association said, warning it could pose a challenge for customers ahead of the high-demand Christmas season.
“It’s a terrible time of year for this to have to happen,” spokeswoman Amanda Brittain said in an interview.
“Some farmers have turkeys all year round, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are the primary consumption events for turkey, so it’s prime turkey growing season right now and unfortunately they are being hit by avian influenza.”
She said the group is anticipating a 20 per cent drop in available turkeys compared to previous years, but there are currently no shortages of eggs or chicken.
Brittain said the spread of the virus has been unprecedented this year across North America and especially troubling during migratory seasons in the spring and fall.
“It started picking up again in the fall and then in November, (B.C.) got hit really hard with a number of infections,” she said.
The Canadian Food Ienspection Agency’s latest available data shows 866,200 birds have been impacted by the H5N1 strain of avian flu this year in British Columbia. It shows 43 currently infected premises in the province as of Wednesday, while 21 others have recovered.
Avian flu is spread through contact with an infected bird or its feces or nasal secretions. Farm birds that go outside are most at risk because they can come in direct contact with infected wild birds or their feces.
Humans can also inadvertently carry the infection into a barn on their shoes or clothing, but the agency has said no human cases have been detected in Canada and the illness is not considered a significant concern for healthy people who are not in regular contact with infected birds.
Importing turkey for the holiday season could also be a challenge. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has set restrictions on imports of live birds, bird products and by-products from U.S. states affected by the flu.
The U.S. Centre for Disease Control said in a news release Saturday that more than 49 million birds in 46 states have either died as a result of bird flu virus infection or have been culled due to exposure to infected birds since early 2022.
The B.C. Egg Marketing Board has said about 80 per cent of the province’s 578 poultry farms are located in the Fraser Valley, which sits in the path of a main bird migration route.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.
USAID head urges crisis-hit Sri Lanka to tackle corruption
By Krishan Francis in Colombo
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A visiting U.S. diplomat on Sunday urged Sri Lankan authorities to tackle corruption and introduce governance reforms alongside efforts to uplift the country’s economy as a way out of its worst crisis in recent memory.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power told reporters that such moves will increase international and local trust in the government’s intentions.
“Assistance alone would not put an end to this country’s woes,” Power said. “I stressed to the Sri Lankan president in my meeting earlier today that political reforms and political accountability must go hand in hand with economic reforms and economic accountability.”
She said that international investor confidence will increase as the government tackles corruption and proceeds with long sought governance reforms. “As citizens see the government visibly following through on the commitment to bring about meaningful change, that in turn increases societal support for the tough economic reforms ahead,” she said.
During her two-day visit, Power announced a total of $60 million in aid to Sri Lanka. After meetings with farmers’ representatives at a rice field in Ja-Ela, outside of the capital Colombo on Saturday, she announced $40 million to buy agrochemicals in time for the next cultivation season.
Agricultural yields dropped by more than half for the past two cultivation seasons because authorities had banned the imports of chemical fertilizers ostensibly to promote organic farming. She said that according to the World Food Program, more than 6 million people — nearly 30% of Sri Lanka’s population — are currently facing food insecurity and require humanitarian assistance.
On Sunday, she said an additional $20 million will be given to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to vulnerable families.
Sri Lanka has faced its worst crisis after it defaulted on foreign loans, causing shortages of essentials like fuel, medicines and some food items.
It has reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $2.9 billion package to be disbursed over four years. However, the program hinges on Sri Lanka’s international creditors giving assurances on loan restructuring. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt is more than $51 billion of which $28 billion must be repaid by 2027.
Power said that the U.S. stands ready to assist with debt restructuring and reiterated that it is imperative that China, one of the island nation’s bigger creditors, cooperate in this endeavor.
Infrastructure like a seaport, airport and a network of highways built with Chinese funding did not earn revenue and are partly blamed for the country’s woes.
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