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Agriculture

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.

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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

Federal Government Examines Living Conditions for Thousands of Foreign Workers

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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.

Health Risks

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.

Seeking Input

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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Agriculture

Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

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Canadian Agriculture More Energy Intensive, More Efficient

It’s no secret that agriculture has contributed to climate change through various means. For example, you may know that livestock generates greenhouse gas emissions due to how farms process it. That said, it’s now clear that farmers have found sustainable ways to offset those contributions. In Canada, it’s all about energy use.

Here’s how Canadian farmers have become more efficient as they raise crops and livestock, setting a standard the world should follow.

Energy Demand and Consumption Have Fluctuated

The demand for energy has increased across the agricultural sector as a whole. However, it’s key to note that farmers have begun to use less energy despite that fact. That points to more efficient practices. The farmers who complete their work productively save time, money and energy. As a result, Canadian workers have reduced their energy consumption per dollar by 17%. That’s thanks to sustainability.

The most common energy sources include fuel, gas and electricity. It’s how farmers use those resources that counts. Combined with technology choices and new practices, it’s clear that efficiency is more achievable than ever.

What Contributes to This Phenomenon?

It’s crucial for people in agriculture to explore eco-friendly alternatives. The grasslands that many western Canadian farmers cultivate contains excess carbon, so you can imagine what the country as a whole holds underneath its surface. Farmers have now adopted new methods to adjust how they harvest their crops. These systems are better for production, as well as soil and seed health overall.

The agriculture industry has gone through many changes, too. There are fewer farms — but those that still operate have employed agricultural technology to be as efficient as possible. These tools include different equipment that cuts down on time to increase proficiency. Plus, it’s now more common to use solar power as an alternative to traditional energy solutions.

Why Accuracy and Precision Matters

It’s a lot easier to be energy efficient when you don’t waste your resources. The means farmers practiced before they used specific innovations often created a time deficit. If you have a smaller machine, you likely need to do twice as much work. However, when you have access to equipment that fits your field, you don’t have to be as wasteful. The accuracy and precision created by technology make this a reality.

Soil Conservation Is Led by Ranchers

Many farmers have looked to ranchers for help. It’s a native part of ranching to preserve topsoil and other elements that are inherently sustainable. As a result, it seems like ranchers have been leading the charge against climate change for decades. The tactics they use to avoid tilling soil, for example, help preserve the amount of carbon that lies underneath the Earth’s surface.

The “no-till” practice is efficient in its own right. Rather than till your soil to plant a new crop, you simply leave behind what’s already there. This method is much better for soil nutrition, and it can keep carbon exposure at bay. As a result, you have much fewer carbon emissions. In general, the idea of soil conservation isn’t a new one, but old tricks can still work alongside modern technology.

The Future of Agriculture in Canada Looks Bright

If farmers continue on this path, it’ll be clear that climate solutions are at the forefront of their minds. These efforts create more benefits for them as they save time and money. Plus, there’s always the responsibility of maintaining the planet’s health. After all, without a strong ecosystem, agriculture would suffer. Through means that are more accurate and conservative, Canadian farmers have been able to become more efficient. 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.

 

 

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