Uncertainty looms large for farmers

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Farmers are already facing challenges this year as COVID-19 strikes the agriculture and agri-food industries.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/03/2020 (919 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Farmers are already facing challenges this year as COVID-19 strikes the agriculture and agri-food industries.

“The biggest thing that we’re kind of concerned about is the uncertainty,” said Keystone Agricultural Producers president Bill Campbell, who farms south of Brandon.

“A large component of agriculture deals with a chain, and if there’s any disruption to that chain of services, what happens then?”

Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun Bill Campbell, the president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, checks on some of his herd of Limousin cattle at his farm northeast of Minto on Friday.

The temporary closing of the Canada-U.S. border is a major concern for farmers, Campbell said.

“When we rely on a lot of our products going that way and a lot of the things that we need coming from there … is fertilizer going to be delivered on time? Will the transportation system be able to handle and cope with all of the issues that they’re going to have to deal with?” he said. “Can we get parts, can we get seed if it’s not in place?”

And while there appears to be enough seed stored in warehouses for planting, if a wet spring forces farmers to change their crops, “will there be that seed available for options?” Campbell said.

Even social distancing during the pandemic can have an effect on farmers if they take their crops to the inland elevators and they’re not allowed inside, he said.

“They are not coming out of the office, and we are not to go into the office,” he said, adding he has even heard of some closing their doors during the outbreak, and farmers need to phone ahead to find out if they’ll open the door to them to take care of the paperwork.

“There’s a lot of things that we will have to adjust to,” he said, and that includes not only grain farmers but also cattle, hog and egg producers.

“The other part that is a major concern with this chain is the processing facilities and if there is a disruption in any of them, be it their movement to export position or their processing capabilities, or even trucking — getting the product to them,” Campbell said. “What if there’s problems at Maple Leaf or HyLife? That is huge.”

Campbell said Premier Brian Pallister has spoken about the resiliency of Manitobans during the pandemic.

“But I would suggest that agriculture has been resilient since last September,” he said. “The whole part of being resilient is strong, but resiliency relies on seeing some type of hope and promise somewhere along the line, so as we’re staying in resiliency when do we move to recovery and rebounding and that glimmer of hope?”

Manitoba Beef Producers general manager Carson Callum said in an email to the Sun that his organization is in regular contact with industry stakeholders and the provincial government to ensure stable beef production and trade is maintained during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Ensuring Manitoba producers are well-supported and all Manitobans have continued access to nutritious beef products is a top priority in these discussions.”

He noted there have been no fundamental changes to the export and import of food and livestock outside of the increased precautions recommended by the federal government.

“While some delays may be anticipated due to the COVID-19 outbreak, international co-operation and prioritization is placed on maintaining a highly integrated, functioning food system,” Callum said, adding there are no specific requirements in place in Canada restricting bovine or meat imports and exports related to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a statement Saturday that Ottawa is working to ensure protocols are in place as temporary foreign workers enter the country to work on farms and in food-processing facilities.

“The participation of temporary foreign workers on our farms and our food businesses is absolutely necessary,” Bibeau said.

“It is nothing less than an issue of food security. We are making sure that our food-supply chain is not compromised by the closure of our borders, as we now need thousands of workers on the farms for the planting season as well as the processing of foods from the land and sea.”

Every measure will be taken to follow necessary health requirements, including thorough pre-screening, supervised isolation upon their arrival in Canada and employee monitoring, the minister said, noting more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers are employed in the agriculture and agri-food sectors.

“We’re standing by our farmers every step of the way,” Bibeau said.

“We’re working closely with industry and provincial-territorial partners to closely monitor all the issues related to the health of Canadians, including an adequate food supply for all.”

» brobertson@brandonsun.com

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