Editor’s Column: Agriculture is getting the job done

As the health and economic crisis deepens in Canada and around the world, food security, production and the value chains that support the agriculture industry have moved into the spotlight. A food crisis added to this pandemic would cause even more suffering here and abroad. During this time of increased focus on agriculture, I have never been so proud to be part of this industry — I see people, organizations, businesses and communities working to minimize disruptions to the value chains that underpin food production. Canadian agriculture has become a beacon of light on this pandemic landscape.

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While I recognize there are great hardships and economic losses being borne by many industry stakeholders, agriculture and its value chains are also adapting, and quickly, to the constantly changing circumstances. For example, the cattle industry is working hard to keep packing plants open and trade as normal as possible. Because of co-operation along the entire beef value chain, it has been reported slaughter facilities are working beyond capacity to meet demand.

This was also made possible by industry adopting measures and putting protocols and practices in place to keep plant workers, ranchers and others involved in the sector safe and healthy during this pandemic.

The federal government is also involved by doing its best to keep the cattle business moving and the Canada-U.S. borders open to trade. In Alberta, the provincial and federal governments are working together to train provincial meat inspectors to work in high-priority, federally-licenced plants due to increased processing demand as consumers stockpile food.

A quick response to the uncertainty and chaos caused by the pandemic by pork processors has also been reported. Processors are coming up with innovative measures to minimize the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in processing plants.

Businesses, organizations and individuals are coming forward to support the transport industry and its workers, which has been greatly affected as services shut down along Canadian and U.S. routes. Since public appeals have been made to ensure truckers can move essential items — such as food and medical supplies — services have improved and will, hopefully, continue to improve as the importance of the role truckers play in this crisis is communicated and understood. Despite these challenges, the trucking industry has maintained its transportation services. Additionally, rail companies are recovering from the blockades earlier this year and grain movement continues to improve.

Furthermore, timely responses to the pandemic include declarations by all Prairie provinces that agriculture and food production are essential services and the recent announcement by the government of Canada naming food production and its supporting industries part of the 10 critical infrastructure sectors.

At the time of writing, seed, fertilizer and other crop input products were in the process of being delivered to farmers without any reported impediments, largely due to measures taken by crop protection and input companies, some by speeding up the release of important products into the marketplace.

This unprecedented co-operation to ensure food production is not hampered is happening across all ag sectors. From grain companies and elevators to crop input and rail companies, agriculture is getting the job done.

However, the foundation of the food production system and the ability to keep it moving along, is you. The continued health and well-being of farmers, their families, farm workers and their communities is paramount. You are a very important link in the agriculture value chain. In fact, without you, there is no value chain. So far, physical and social distancing has presented challenges, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. With farm operations gearing up for seeding, it’s likely you’ll be in contact with more people and circumstances that could put you at higher risk of exposing yourself and your operation to COVID-19.

10 tips for farm operations

With that in mind, I’ve provided information and key prevention steps from AgSafe BC, the Manitoba Farm Safety Program and Keystone Agricultural Producers, and the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council to help you minimize the effects and spread of COVID-19 at your operation.

  1. Allow only essential visitors on your farm;
  2. Implement a health monitoring plan for workers, contractors and visitors to the worksite;
  3. Ensure employees are informed of the risks, symptoms and steps to self-isolate;
  4. Establish protocols to sanitize equipment and surfaces including those in vehicles;
  5. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, including gates and latches, table-tops, control panels, office equipment (such as the computer, keyboard and mouse), steering wheels, handles, doorknobs, light switches, eating areas, pens, hoist gates, stair railings, and first-aid equipment among others;
  6. Disinfect washrooms regularly. Display handwashing posters in washrooms and workshops (check out the above websites);
  7. Put hand sanitizer and paper towels in all vehicles and equipment. Sanitize equipment when getting into and out of vehicles. When travelling off-farm, remain in the cab if possible and don’t allow other people to enter the vehicle;
  8. Avoid sharing tools and/or disinfect them after use;
  9. Where possible, limit the number of operators for individual vehicles and equipment, and;
  10. Farms can create an exposure control plan (find the template at agsafebc.ca) to document specific and appropriate controls to minimize and eliminate identified risks.

For a full list of protocols, recommendations and tools, please visit the websites mentioned above.

A warm welcome

On a completely different and very happy note, I’d like to introduce you to our new machinery editor, Travis Warkentin. Travis started in the ag sector in February 2008. By the time seeding started that year, Travis knew farming was something he wanted to pursue for the rest of his life. He says he’s always been mechanically-inclined, an ability augmented by his background as an electrician, all of which makes him a great fit for his new role at Grainews.

Travis has a passion for this industry and wants to write about everything, from cutting-edge technology and upgrading used equipment to providing machinery and shop hacks for your farms. Welcome, Travis!

Before I let you go, I’d like to say the circumstances we’re facing today may be unprecedented in our lifetimes, however, we are all in this together and we will get through it together by adapting to the circumstances, through resilience and communication, generosity, kindness and supporting one another. Agriculture is stepping up and everyone is doing their part. I wish you all a safe, healthy and productive planting season!

About the author

Editor

Kari Belanger

Kari Belanger has been a writer and editor since graduating from the University of Calgary with a B.Sc. in Biology and a BA in English Literature in 1996. For more than twenty years, she has worked in many different industries and media, including newspapers and trade publications. For the past decade she has worked exclusively in the agriculture industry, leading a number of publications as editor. Kari has a particular passion for grower-focused publications and a deep respect for Canadian farmers and the work they do. Her keen interest in agronomy and love of writing have led to her long-term commitment to support, strengthen and participate in the industry.

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