While livestock and crop producers were disappointed with the May 5 announcement from the federal government that the industry was receiving only $252 million in pandemic assistance, other sectors appreciated the help.
McCain Foods for example was glad to hear that about $50 million of that $252 million would be used to support a surplus food program — that money, for example, can help the processing industry process a lot of stored potatoes that otherwise would
Prime Minister Trudeau said the program will be used to not only process potatoes for french fries, but also buy large quantities of certain products at risk of going to waste — stored vegetables, poultry, pork, and dairy for example, for redistribution to organizations such as food banks.
“This will help ensure that our farmers are being compensated for their hard work and that our most vulnerable have access to fresh food during this crisis,” said Trudeau.
“McCain Foods was pleased to hear the announcement from the Canadian government, offering the much needed Surplus Food Purchase Program to Canada’s farmers at this difficult time,” said Max Koeune, president and CEO of McCain Foods. Over the recent weeks McCain, alongside potato farmers across the country, has been asking the government to participate in finding a solution for the large surplus of potatoes caused by the closure of restaurants due to coronavirus. The company applauds the government for listening and for taking action.
“We are keen to see the details of the program, including timings,” says Koeune. “This support needs to be in place quickly, as potatoes in store are at risk of spoiling as the weather warms. Finally, we are encouraged by the Prime Minister’s appreciation of Canadian farmers and food producers, and the commitment to more funding if and when required.”
WHAT ABOUT BEEF AND CROPS??
While the May 5 announcement of $252 million in assistance to the agriculture industry is certainly more than pocket change, it still falls far short of what the livestock and crop sectors need just to keep the industry afloat during the pandemic.
Organizations representing crop and livestock producers were asking the government for some $2.6 billion — so the $252 million stands as the proverbial drop in the bucket or as some agriculture leaders described it — like bringing a cup of water to a house fire.
While crop and livestock producers need a certain amount of immediate financial assistance, just knowing for sure what assistance will be coming in the weeks and months ahead would be a huge help in planning.
Livestock producers, for example, immediately need a set-aside program developed to help manage the flow of market-ready livestock through processing facilities. That needs to happen now.
All sectors need improvement to the cash advance program — easier access and higher borrowing limits — to cover immediate costs and get crops seeded for the 2020 growing season.
Aside from money, farmers are also concerned that the current shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will make it impossible to complete their work in a safe environment. While farmers are not asking for financial assistance for PPE, access many on-farm tasks require it for Occupational Health and Safety compliance as well as personal protection.
“Grain farmers not asking for band-aid solutions,” said Dave Bishop, Alberta Barley Chair. “We need programs that allow us to withstand major shocks to our incomes and ongoing risks beyond our control including trade, weather and global pandemics without having to resort to ad-hoc solutions.”
While the Alberta barley and wheat commissions acknowledge that other agri-food sectors have been harder hit by COVID-19, improvements to the AgriStability program would provide meaningful solutions to already existing issues affecting farm viability.
The commissions, along with our Team Alberta counterparts – Alberta Canola and the Alberta Pulse Growers – and other Canadian farm groups including the Grain Growers of Canada, have long pressed for improvements to AgriStability including the removal of reference margin limits and a return to 85 per cent AgriStability coverage.
It wasn’t that many months ago the Prime Minister reached into a bag of tricks and over night came up with $5 billion to buy an oil transmission pipeline. Now he needs to go back to that happy place and to find cash as well as to commit to about $2 billion in assistance to help keep one of the most essential services and industries alive.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]