COVID-19 is sucking the life out of the Canadian agriculture industry and there aren’t that many weeks left before farm operations across the country will be among the casualties of the pandemic — victims of the so-called financial assistance from the federal government that was truly too little, too late.
It was a sombre panel of agriculture association and commodity group representatives participating in an on-line town hall meeting Tuesday, to give their reaction to a disappointing federal government announcement earlier in the day that provided a $252 million aid package to the industry.
Representatives of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the National Cattle
Feeders’ Association, the Canadian Pork Council and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture were stoic in “appreciating” the $252 million package announced by Prime Minister Trudeau earlier in the day.
But, as Rick Bergmann, a Steinbach, Manitoba hog producer and chair of the Canadian Pork Council described it “that $252 million is like bringing a cup of water to a house fire”.
The agriculture industry had been hoping/asking/pleading for assistance more in the order of $2.6 billion across both the crop and livestock sectors. And not to say one sector has more urgency than the other — the crop producers do have to get a crop seeded this spring, but the livestock sector is really in a crisis. It is a dynamic and very perishable sector — beef, dairy, pork, poultry — animals have to be fed, they are ready for processing, milk is being milked, and everything is running into hold ups or slow downs or blockages or reduced or closed markets…help is needed just to keep farms afloat.
Cattle feeders are loosing $300 to $500 per head while it is costing the feeder industry $400,000 in feed per day to maintain cattle. With the Cargill plant at High River getting back into production that is helping, but over the past couple weeks as many as 5,000 to 6,000 head per day of market-ready cattle were backing up in feedlots.
It is a similar situation with the hog industry. Hog producers are losing between $30 and $50 on each market animal — they were hoping for even partial assistance of about $20 per head just to stay in business. But there was no help in Tuesday’s announcement. There are about 100,000 market hogs backed up in Eastern Canada and in Western Canada some producers are giving hogs away and in still limited but dire situations, pigs are being euthanized.
With a reduced market for dairy products— milk is being dumped. Poultry operations are feeling the pressure of reduced processing capacity as well.
CROPS SECTOR HURTING TOO
And not to make it all about beef, pork and dairy, the grain producers were disappointed too.
“While we recognize the urgent challenges faced by other commodities, today’s announcement does nothing for grain farmers,” said Jeff Nielsen, chair of the Grain Growers of Canada (CCG). “This relief package offers no resolution to our existing issues, which result from long-standing market access challenges, rail blockades, and 2019’s harvest from hell.”
He pointed out as net farm incomes continue to plummet, the federal government has only offered relief programs that are either not applicable to the majority of farms or prioritize access to debt for already highly leveraged farmers. This relief package, unfortunately, maintains that trend.
“We (the CCG) have provided the government with proactive, practical measures to give farmers the tools they need to succeed,” said Nielsen.” We ask now that the federal government take a leadership role and decisively implement the concrete solutions that we have outlined.”
And as both the livestock and crop sectors point out, it’s not just about looking for cash today (although farmers do need cash today), they’ve also been asking for some key repairs to risk management programs such as AgriStability, AgriRecovery and ArgiInvest. These programs have been around for several years and even in “normal” times needed some reworking. As economy crumbles under the pandemic they just don’t meet needs at all.
The industry is looking for assistance in the $2.6 billion range, but as again was noted in the town hall meeting, that doesn’t have to be paid all at once. The industry just needs some reassurance of what and when help will be coming making it much easier to plan.
While the Prime Minister made comments today it may take eight to nine months for the economy to begin showing a rebound, agriculture commodity leaders say if financial relief doesn’t come soon many farms won’t survive that long.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]