OTTAWA — The Canadian Federation of Agriculture says Ottawa should make the industry a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, second only to the health of Canadians, to safeguard the country’s food supply.
President Mary Robinson told a news conference Thursday that the industry is struggling with farmers being hit by higher costs due to the pandemic and a shortage of temporary foreign workers.
“We do not mean to create panic. At the same time it would be irresponsible not to sound the alarm about the realities Canadian farmers are facing,” said Robinson.
“Canadian farmers need immediate, meaningful help from our federal government to continue fulfilling that responsibility. Agriculture, the foundation of our overall food supply, is at this very moment in time at a tipping point.”
Robinson said the federal government needs to establish an emergency fund so producers can overcome mounting costs. She didn’t specify how much money should be put aside.
“Canadian farmers are feeling increasingly stressed. In fact, right now, some farmers are so worried about the mounting challenges they are strongly considering halting their farming operations altogether,” Robinson said.
“Another fear is if planting does go ahead will harvest and processing be possible without sufficient labour or will crops rot in the field as we are seeing now in other countries?”
She warned that consumers could see a decrease in the amount and variety of food in grocery stores, as well as higher prices, if action isn’t taken.
Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the government does recognize the importance of the agriculture sector and has provided a substantial amount of assistance already. She said Ottawa will look at the request.
“As our food producers and supply chains continue to adjust, we welcome recommendations provided by the sector as we work together to respond to the exceptional situation we are in,” Bibeau said in a statement.
“Farmers and food businesses are doing a huge service to feed the nation and they can be confident that their government has their back.”
Bibeau also spoke Thursday with United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. She said she affirmed agriculture and food production as critical infrastructure and they spoke of the importance of uninterrupted food and agriculture trade between the two countries.
The CEO of Food Products of Canada is backing the demand for further assistance.
Michael Graydon said farmers represent the first line of Canada’s food supply and need to be reassured.
“Anything less will harm our rural communities, cities and all Canadians now and well into the future,” he said.
“It’s an unprecedented challenge. We’ve worked hard to keep up with record spikes in demand for foods, help employees stay healthy and upholding the most rigorous food safety standards.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2020
— By Bill Graveland in Calgary. Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter
The Canadian Press