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Ont. grain producers worried about the future

Ont. grain producers worried about the future

Some don’t think their business will survive the pandemic, a new GFO poll suggests

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer
Farms.com

Some Ontario grain growers are concerned their operations may not outlast the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) surveyed 1,006 producers in July, asking them to rate their levels of concern about issues related to their farms and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the total respondents, 58 per cent (or 583 farmers), said they are concerned their grain businesses won’t survive the pandemic.

That fear could lead to producers taking any number of steps to ensure they can continue farming, said Markus Haerle, president of GFO. Alternatively, some farmers may decide to leave the industry altogether.

“Surviving the pandemic could also mean a change in business structure,” he told Farms.com. “Commodities like corn, soybeans and wheat might not be part of their businesses, and farmers might switch to poultry, hogs or another commodity. Farmers might even look at the situation and decide to retire prematurely or sell the farm.”

Farmers seek more government support during these challenging times.

Eight out of 10 surveyed producers ask for support that matches what their American counterparts receive. And 76 per cent of survey participants say they can’t compete with U.S. farmers because of the lack of government assistance in Canada.

American producers can receive up to $333,000 (US$250,000) through the White House’s coronavirus stimulus package.

Ontario growers have received some support from the provincial government.

Earlier this month, Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s ag minister, announced a $50-million expansion of the Risk Management Program. This expansion equates to a total of $150 million annually.

“It’s a step forward from the provincial government,” Haerle said.

In March, Ottawa announced up to $173 million in loan repayment deferrals under the Advance Payments Program and that Farm Credit Canada would receive an extra $5 billion in lending capacity.

But producers need concrete solutions, not more debt, Haerle said.

“It adds another tier of debt,” he said. “It doesn’t give you any reassurance that you have the program next year. Going into more debt doesn’t help pay off debt. Some lenders are hesitant to provide the loans because a farmer might be classified as high risk if the lender thinks the farmer can’t pay the loan back.”

In May, the Prime Minister announced $252 million in COVID-19 support for Canadian farmers, but none of this funding was designated for the grain sector.

“We’ve been waiting for months but we haven’t heard anything from the government in terms of support for us,” Haerle said.

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