The provincial government will administer additional federal funds to help farm business owners protect their workers from COVID-19
By Jackie Clark
The federal and provincial ag ministers announced the specifics of the Emergency On-Farm Support Fund as it will apply in the province of Ontario in an Oct. 13 press conference.
“So many good things are grown and produced in Ontario and we celebrate the hard-working people who provide it,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal minister of agriculture and agri-food.
She applauded the work of farm owners and workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, like every year, thousands of migrant farm workers came to Canada to work on farms and in greenhouses. We deeply value all those who are working hard to keep our food system running. Everyone needs to feel safe and supported when they go to work,” she said. “The government of Canada and the government of Ontario are taking a major step to protect worker safety, while helping farmers during the COVID-19 outbreak. Applications are now open for Ontario farmers to access the new Emergency On-Farm Support Fund.”
Bibeau had announced intake for this federal program for certain provinces last week.
“While the federal government is administering the program in some provinces, here in Ontario, the provincial government will deliver the program that represents an investment of $11.6 million,” she explained.
Funding will be cost shared 50/50 with the applicant and can go toward infrastructure, protective equipment or other costs associated with health and safety to prevent or recover from COVID-19 outbreaks in the agriculture sector.
“I encourage Ontario producers to apply and take full advantage of the funds now available to you,” Bibeau said.
This program represents “our commitment to support the front-line food heroes who help produce and raise safe, high-quality foods for the sector to bring to the markets,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has reminded us all of the importance of our food supply chain, and how much we rely on Ontario farmers to keep it strong. The workers in this sector have helped feed our province through the COVID-19 challenge, and we have been proud and determined to support them and their employers to do so,” he said.
“I’m delighted that the federal and provincial governments will invest an additional $11.6 million for a total of up to $26.6 million to date to support actions that will better support workers and make the workplace even safer in this sector. The federal funding will be delivered by the Ontario government and expands Ontario’s existing commitment of up to $15 million through the Enhanced Agri-Food Workplace Protection Program that we announced in June,” Hardeman explained.
Through the Emergency On-Farm Support program, farmers can apply to claim expenses up to $15,000.
“This amount doubles the current expense limit of $7,500,” Hardeman said. “The program will also include a new category for small capital projects of up to $100,000 for housing, workplace, and equipment modifications to allow for greater physical distancing for the workers.”
There is no timeline for these investment projects, he added. Provincial and federal officials hope to have the funding in applicants’ hands as soon as possible to ensure that money can quickly go towards protecting people.
This additional funding will be “a welcome relief to many of our farm businesses, our farmers, and their employers, that have been struggling under the financial burden to implement the necessary COVID-19 precautions that we needed to take in order to continue on our farm businesses throughout this growing season,” said Keith Currie, the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
The “financial strain of implementing these measures to accommodate labour requirements this season has put additional pressures on many farm businesses,” Currie said. “This new funding will go a long way to support our farm businesses of all sizes to put in place more long-term or permanent solutions to preventing the spread of COVID-19, adding some much-needed stability to the workplace.”
The mental stress of the COVID-19 pandemic on both farm owners and workers cannot be overstated, he added.
“As we begin to wrap up this growing season outdoors and begin to look forward to the next one, this relief that’s announced today will help settle some of those rattled nerves that we’ve experienced throughout this growing season, both for our employers and employees,” Currie said.