Safeguarding the food system needs to be the highest priority after health care, CFA president said
By Jackie Clark
Canadian farmers need financial support from the government to ensure the domestic food system remains fully functional, Mary Robinson, Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) president said yesterday at the CFA’s first online press conference.
“As farmers, we have carefully considered this message today. We do not want to create panic. At the same time, it would be irresponsible not to sound the alarm about the realities Canadian farmers are facing,” Robinson said.
“Today 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. If we do not, as a nation, address the rising challenges immediately, Canadian consumers could see a decrease in the amount and variety of food at their local grocery stores as well as higher prices in the months ahead,” she explained.
The CFA and its membership’s concerns are labour shortages, market unpredictability, and “the increasing and unexpected costs COVID-19 is generating for Canadian farmers,” Robinson said.
Farmers are having to purchase additional personal protective equipment for the health and safety of workers, and some are faced with keeping livestock longer than expected because of decreased processing capacity.
“This year many Canadian farmers do not have enough workers to consider planting a 2020 crop. In addition, farmers are seeing alarming uncertainty in their markets … difficult decisions are being made right now about whether to plant a crop, or leave fields unplanted, or plant crops that require less labour and costly inputs,” Robinson explained.
The CFA acknowledged the initiative the government announced Monday granting payments to farmers to help cover the cost of self-isolation for incoming temporary foreign workers.
“This is a good first step. Much more needs to be done,” Robinson said. “Right now, some farmers are so worried about the mounting challenges, they are strongly considering halting their farming operations altogether. This is a potential tragedy; one Canada cannot afford.”
These farmers need direct financial support.
“CFA and our members are asking government to create an emergency fund, a financial backstop, so farmers in need can access funds to help them overcome mounting costs. Canadian farmers need to hear a clear commitment from government to instill in them the necessary confidence for the 2020 planting season,” Robinson said.
Health care needs to be the first priority, involving both treating those with COVID-19 and preventing further spread of the disease. The second priority should be supporting the domestic food system, Robinson said.
“Canadian farmers are resilient, hard-working, and industrious by nature. We are not ones to seek handouts. We look to government only as a last resort,” she added. “We can, providing we work together, ensure our food system is secure, and our grocery stores continue to be well stocked with healthy and affordable food raised by Canadian farmers.”
CFA appealed to Canadians to contact local members of Parliament to emphasize that farmers need government support to safeguard the food system.