National ag organizations are focused on the sector’s ability to contribute to economic recovery
By Jackie Clark
As has been said every day since March, 2020 has been a year like no other. Leaders of national agricultural organizations gathered to discuss the challenges of the past year, and how the sector can be positioned to grow and succeed in the new one, at a town hall meeting on Dec. 17.
“Farmers and ranchers are used to dealing with the unknown, but none of us envisioned the arrival of a global human pandemic and the challenges that it produced,” said Fawn Jackson, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).
“We’re extremely proud of how we navigated the uncertainties resulting from the first wave of COVID-19 and how we continue to put fresh and nutritious food on the table for millions of Canadians and our international neighbours,” she added. “Looking ahead to 2021 the Canadian agriculture sector is poised to help lead Canada’s post-pandemic recovery, and in order to lead the recover we will require partnerships and strategic investments from governments.”
Bob Lowe, president of the CCA, agreed.
“What was meant to be a great year quickly turned into a difficult one,” he said. “This has been a tough year financially for Canada’s beef farmers and ranchers.”
However, “this year wasn’t only about COVID … this year we saw the new NAFTA come into force, which was a welcome continuation of the North American trading relationship. We also saw great achievement on beef sustainability,” he added. The organization set new environmental goals for the industry.
As we look toward the new year, “we are going to press to attain further market access and to make sure we have labour at home to be able to optimize our contribution to recovering Canada’s economy,” Lowe said.
Pork farmers also faced significant challenges in 2020, including “the US-China trade war, price distortion programs in the US, market access issues for Canadian meat into China, and the ongoing threat of African swine fever,” explained Rick Bergmann, chair of the Canadian Pork Council (CPC).
Of course, processing and market disruptions due to COVID-19 also led to lost income for Canadian pork producers, he added. The CPC supports the proposed changes to AgriStability suggested by federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, Marie-Claude Bibeau.
When looking to improve AgriStability farmers “are just asking for a backstop that will help us manage a period of significant volatility and risk,” Bergmann said.
Grain farmers across Canada faced some different challenges, including rail blockages that delayed shipments, said Andre Harpe, chair of the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC).
“What keeps me up at night right now are the factors that extend outside my fields and beyond our boarders,” he said. “We just need our government to work with us in order to realize our massive potential.”
The GGC is asking for help in three key areas: prioritizing and enforcing current free trade agreements, modernizing regulations preventing innovation in ag research, and recognizing efforts in preventing climate change.
Rebecca Lee, executive director of the Canadian Horticultural Council, spoke to the obstacles faced by fruit and vegetable growers in 2020, namely access to labour.
“Our growers have worked hard to manage this crisis and ensure that Canadians continue to have access to healthy and local fruits and vegetables,” she said. Federal and provincial governments were able to provide some support in negotiating logistics and providing funding to bring temporary foreign workers to Canada, have them quarantine, and provide them with the supplies to work safely.
“Throughout the year the government has supported our sector,” Lee said. However “for farmers, the uncertainty remains. Farmers are not immune to risk and this year showed that the current protections set up for our farmers are not adequate.”
The Canadian Horticultural Council also supports Bibeau’s proposal for improvements to AgriStability.
Finally, Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, addressed the role of agriculture in Canada’s future.
“Food production is an essential sector and a foundational pillar for any functional society,” she said.
“Now, as vaccines begin to be distributed, Canada can and needs to look ahead to recovery. Before the pandemic, Canadian agriculture was identified as a key sector, poised for tremendous economic growth,” Robinson explained. “That potential is still there.”
An opportunity exists to expand Canadian agricultural exports.
“Not only can Canadian agriculture achieve explosive growth, but it can do so while helping to feed countries struggling due to COVID, with their own domestic food production,” Robinson said. “But this growth is contingent on farmers receiving proper supports and investments to grow their businesses sustainably, to remove the obstacles in their way to adopting cutting-edge technologies, and to instill confidence to be able to make those investments.”
AgriStability has proved inadequate, she added. Bibeau’s proposal is an important first step.
“We hope to see that proposal accepted before the end of this year,” Robinson said.