Federal and provincial agricultural and commodity organizations send a clear message that the aid announced falls short of what is needed to help the ag industry through COVID-19
By Jackie Clark
Canadian and provincial producer and commodity groups have responded with messages of gratitude, but also disappointment, to the federal government’s $252-million package to help the ag industry through COVID-19 challenges. The financial assistance falls far short of the $2.6 billion that was requested by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA).
“CFA worries that the government’s position on using existing Business Risk Management programs, such as AgriStability, before rolling out additional funds will result in support arriving too late to make a substantial and positive impact on domestic food security,” said a May 5 statement from the CFA. “While the $252M announced today by the government is welcomed, it falls well short of what’s needed to guarantee Canada’s food system for Canadians and the world.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) reiterated this message.
“Although the OFA appreciates the recognition by Prime Minister Trudeau and the federal government to support beef and pork producers across the country with immediate financial assistance, today’s announcement falls short of the critical needs of the industry,” stated a May 5 release from the OFA.
The organization awaits further details on the funding and “will continue to advocate for our farm businesses in conversations with government to seek additional support that stretches across the industry,” said the statement.
Commodity group representatives expressed similar sentiments.
“I was quite underwhelmed,” Rob Lipsett, president of the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) told Farms.com. “The announcements really didn’t have a whole lot of detail.”
The BFO board had an emergency meeting to discuss the announcement.
“We were relieved that agriculture has finally made the table. We’re optimistic (about) those statements that both the prime minister and Minister Bibeau made, that there’s more to come, and should there be more (financial assistance) needed, that it will be made available,” Lipsett said.
“The general consensus around our board table was that even though we were slightly disappointed, we’re going to continue to press forward with the asks that we had presented previous to the announcement,” he added.
Minister Bibeau mentioned the role of the provincial governments in contributing to risk management programs, like AgriRecovery.
“We’re going to continue to press both levels of government on the original asks that we had presented and go from there,” Lipsett said.
The Canadian Pork Council (CPC) also expressed disappointment.
“Although any help from the federal government to support the food sector weather the storm brought on by COVID-19 is welcomed, Canadian pork producers and their families remain at risk given the very limited support outlined in this morning’s announcement,” said a statement released by the CPC on May 5.
“When our house is burning, (the federal government) is offering us a glass of water to save it,” Rick Bergmann, CPC chair, said in the statement.
Pork and beef sectors were directly addressed in the federal government’s announcements, however, very little was said about grain farmers across the country.
“We are not happy with the announcement. It was clear that there was no consideration given to grain farmers, despite the fact that grain farmers are the foundation for the domestic food supply system in Canada,” said Markus Haerle, chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, in an e-mail statement to Farms.com.
“Grain farmers need to deliver every day to provide food for animals and to get flour on the grocery store shelves, and we are seeing how difficult that is becoming. We appreciate that this is a ‘first step,’ but this is woefully inadequate and the next step needs to come swiftly and meaningfully. Once again Prime Minister Trudeau is asking grain farmers to risk their businesses and their family income to bear the costs of everyone having enough to eat,” he added.
The Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) pointed out that COVID-19 challenges are hitting farmers after an already devastating string of issues. The relief package “does nothing for grain farmers,” said Jeff Nielsen, GGC chair, in a May 5 statement. “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.”
The Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) had a more positive reaction.
The organization “welcomed key elements of the package, including increased borrowing capacity for the Canadian Dairy Commission, and additional funding under the AgriRecovery Framework for a set-aside program, which would include dairy cull cows,” said a May 5 statement from the DFC.
“DFC also welcomed the announcement of a surplus food purchase program,” which may be able to address issues of milk oversupply due to rapidly fluctuating demand.
However, the organization ended their statement with a message of solidarity with the rest of the Canadian ag industry.
“Notwithstanding the positive elements of the announcement, DFC acknowledges the total funding falls short of the expectations set out by the CFA and is committed on the need for further government support for the broader agricultural sector,” the statement said.
Several organizations expressed that they were glad attention was finally being paid to agriculture’s needs, but more must be done soon to safeguard the industry’s ability to continue feeding Canadians.
“We understand that we aren’t the only ones asking for help right now. Many sectors and industries are in desperate need of support. However, after healthcare, there is nothing more important for Canada during this pandemic than domestic food security,” said Mary Robinson, CFA president, in a statement.
Read more about the initial announcement from Trudeau here and additional details provided by Bibeau here.
Deniss Streha\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo