Minister Bibeau gave an update on how the federal government is helping the agri-food industry with cashflow, and the status of seasonal ag worker programs
By Jackie Clark
The federal government announced new financial measures to help producers and agri-food businesses manage their cash flow through the COVID-19 crisis. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s minister of agriculture and agri-food, hosted a call yesterday to outline the details and address questions about the financial aid. She also gave a brief update on the process for handling the travel of temporary foreign workers.
“The prime minister announced two new measures we are taking to respond to the agricultural sector’s immediate needs. First, FCC is receiving an extra $5 billion in lending capacity,” Bibeau said.
“This will help producers and agri-food businesses manage cashflow challenges through this difficult time. This injection of credit will permit FCC to help farm and food business owners on a case-by-case basis with potential deferrals of the principal or interest portion of their loans, or access additional credit lines.”
Farmers who are not currently FCC clients “can still knock on the door of FCC and ask for lines of credit. It’s really a case-by-case analysis that will be done,” she added. The federal government had announced earlier in the week it’s given more flexibility to commercial banks for payments and lending.
“FCC is collaborating with private banks as well,” Bibeau said.
“I am also pleased to announce that eligible farmers who have an outstanding Advanced Payment Program (APP) loan deadline on April 30 or earlier will now receive a stay of default for an additional six months,” she added.
The eligible APP payments amount to $173 million dollars in deferred loans.
“The APP program is based on (farmers’) production, so it’s really cashflow management,” Bibeau explained.
The total loan cap in the APP program was raised to $1 million in June 2019. Grain, oilseed, cattle, pulse, and bison producers had already received an extension on 2018 loans, originally due in October 2019, until April 2020. Yesterday’s announcement gives these farmers an additional extension to September 2020, and allows for potted plant and flower growers with 2019 loans due during or before April 2020 to take the same extension.
“This will give (producers) the breathing room they need during this difficult time,” Bibeau said. “For the farmers and food processors who are facing tight margins and a cash crunch, together the two measures announced (yesterday) will help keep money in their pocket when they need it most.”
Theses announcements provide cashflow assistance now, while farms and other agri-food businesses are having to purchase inputs and may be experiencing lost sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Longer-term financial support for farmers remain on the Minister’s mandate.
“The BRM programs are definitely still on my radar. It was my priority just before the COVID-19 crisis started and it’s still on my desk,” Bibeau said. Currently, the focus is on “how we can support the sector while we are going through this disruption period because of COVID-19.”
When addressing the availability of seasonal ag workers and temporary foreign workers, Bibeau stated that F.A.R.M.S. Canada is handling the logistical responsibility, as the organization has in previous years.
“The only part that the government is doing is to negotiate the right to fly. The industry is really taking care and paying for everything related to the logistics around bringing these workers to Canada,” she said.
The federal and provincial health departments are working with F.A.R.M.S. Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture on isolation protocol for those international workers when they arrive.
“It will be the responsibility of the employers to make sure that (employees) comply. Otherwise, (employers) could lose their privilege to have new temporary foreign workers in the coming years,” Bibeau said.
The countries that temporary foreign workers come from “recognize the value of these programs. They know these workers will bring money back into their countries (and that these workers) will come back with new skills that they will share with farmers in their countries. … With all the skills of our foreign ministers as well to negotiate, I’m pretty confident that we should get the rights to fly,” she added.
The government will continue to respond to the COVID-19 crisis as needed, Bibeau said.
“These are unprecedented time and our government is working around the clock to take all the necessary steps to deal with this crisis. I’m in regular contact with … representatives of the industry and my provincial and territorial counterparts,” she said.
These times, more than ever, we see how critical each component of the agri-food industry is.
“I want to sincerely thank everyone in the food supply chain, everyone who – despite the concern – goes to work every day so the rest of us have something to eat,” Bibeau said. “All our people who work in the food value chain are essential people. We need them at work. … We need Canadians to be in our food processing plants, in our groceries, in our food banks and, obviously, on our farms.”