Keystone Agricultural Producers, the voice of Manitoba farmers, is calling on the federal government and the provinces to adopt a whole-of-government approach to food security to ensure that Canadians can continue to rely on stocked grocery store shelves. This is in response to the unprecedented market disruption brought on by COVID-19, including numerous processing slowdowns and facility closures, as well as other looming issues across the supply chain.
“From the beginning of this pandemic, Manitoba’s agriculture industry has been working with both the federal government and the provincial government to address obstacles that have arisen,” Keystone Agricultural Producers president Bill Campbell said today. “While we appreciate that Manitobans and Canadians are focused on short-term issues, we also need to keep our eye on the long-term safety and sustainability of the food supply chain. “
Farmers have been left holding most of the risk when it comes to the global marketplace. After the 2019 growing season that saw China stop canola seed imports, dry conditions, excess moisture conditions, labour disputes, rail blockades and now, a global pandemic, farmers have been dealing with volatile markets for all products.
KAP is recommending that the provincial and federal governments immediately adopt a strategic, whole-of-government approach to emergency preparedness for the Canadian food supply chain. Supports under this approach would include:
1. Immediate financial assistance – allow workers on Canadian farms and in Canadian food businesses to have access to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit and Employment Insurance benefits to ensure that there are incentives to work in support of Canadian food security during this situation. Current benefits make recruiting Canadian workers impossible and challenge retention of existing workers. Alternatively, modify both the federal Employment Insurance program or the provincial Employment and Income Assistance program to permit benefit recipients to seek full-time work in the agri-food industry while retaining access to benefits.
2. Business Risk Management – the federal and provincial governments need to work together to immediately provide a stimulus program under the AgriInvest program of no less than 5% of producers’ 2018 Allowable Net Sales. Further, AgriStability must have a coverage rate of 85% with no reference margin limit in 2020. The federal and provincial governments should also begin to prepare the background and calculate the extraordinary costs producers will have to take on to recover from COVID-19 to ensure expedited AgriRecovery programming.
3. Prioritize Agri-Food for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Testing – acknowledging food supply as a priority requires that the sector be given secondary priority, behind the healthcare sector, for access to PPE and diagnostic testing. The agri-food sector must have priority access to non-medical grade masks and gloves that prevent workers from potentially infecting colleagues and shutting down processing facilities.
4. Driver’s licensing – many producers are unable to move product to market without a Class 1 license. Clarification is required as to whether producers will receive an extension on their license if they are unable to get physical exams to renew their license. Further, producers need to be able to keep their place in line once Manitoba Public Insurance resumes testing. Manitoba producers need more information as soon as possible if the licenses they earned under the ag deferral for Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) will be valid beyond August 31. We also recommend that government expand funding opportunities for MELT tuition, considering that most producers obtain their class 1 licence not to become professional truck drivers, but to perform one task amongst many others on the farm.
“Farmers stand ready to help all levels of government through this extraordinary time, but farmers also can’t stand alone facing an unprecedented wave of uncertainty and risk,” Campbell added. “What we are proposing today will help agriculture move forward and allow the entire industry to focus on what we do best, feeding the world.”
For more information:
Joey Dearborn, communications coordinator
Keystone Agricultural Producers