Marine management

Canadian farmers warn that if state aid is not guaranteed, they may suspend the season


“This is a potential tragedy that Canada cannot afford,” said Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Agriculture Association

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Canadian farmers are warning that this summer their fields could be fallow and their crops could rot, leading to possible food shortages and higher prices.

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In a press conference on Thursday, the Canadian Agriculture Association said farmers need reassurance that government funding will come or many will abandon the 2020 growing season.

“This is a potential tragedy that Canada cannot afford,” said CFA President Mary Robinson. “We don’t want to create panic. At the same time, it would be irresponsible not to sound the alarm given the realities Canadian farmers are facing. “

The agriculture sector is now at a turning point, Robinson said, as farmers face complications from migrant labor and unexpected costs for things like personal protective equipment. The uncertainty has led some farmers to switch to growing soybeans for animal feed, which requires less money and labor than tomatoes, for example.

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“What we hear from some farmers is that it is too risky. I think I’ll just sit it out, “Robinson said in an interview. “If a cherry farmer has a COVID outbreak on his farm in the week before the harvest begins and he has invested millions and millions of dollars in that harvest, what happens to him?”

The CFA is calling on the federal government to set up an emergency fund to guarantee farmers financial security if the coronavirus crisis interrupts their operations.

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In a statement on Thursday, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau’s office said the agriculture sector was “a top priority” and welcomed the CFA’s recommendations. However, the minister’s office also pointed to previously announced benefits to the sector, including $ 2 billion on deferred loans to food manufacturers and processors.

However, the CFA argued that farmers cannot afford to take on more debt.

“There are countless other ways behind the scenes to ensure our food supply chains stay strong,” the minister said in a statement. “Of course we recognize that our government has more to do.”

We don’t want to create panic

The crisis has exacerbated labor shortages in Canadian agriculture, which relies heavily on temporary workers from Mexico and the Caribbean. Earlier this week, Bibeau announced $ 50 million – $ 1,500 per worker – to help farmers with housing costs and pay for temporary workers during the 14-day quarantine required for the growing season after arriving in Canada .

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“This is a good first step,” said Robinson. “Much more needs to be done.”

With some foreign temporary workers unable to travel to Canadian farms during the crisis, the industry is forecasting more than 20,000 vacancies this season. Without people in these jobs, “we face the possibility of the crops rotting in the fields,” the CFA said.

The association said it was working with the government to motivate the millions laid off during the current lockdown to consider working on farms. But in the past, the increasingly urban population found it difficult to work long days picking produce in the fields.

Prince Edward Island Senator Diane Griffin urges the government to sweeten the deal. In a letter to the Agriculture and Labor Ministers earlier this month

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Griffin and 21 other senators proposed allowing laid-off Canadians to work on farms and in food processing plants without losing their labor insurance or Canadian emergency money. If people, including college students, are not eligible for these benefits, the Senators suggested paying them a grant equal to the $ 2,000 monthly CERB payment.

“This is a bad situation,” Griffin said in an interview on Monday.

The CFA said Thursday that in talks with the government it was proposing an incentive program that “doesn’t get completely out of hand” with Griffin’s idea.

Bibeau’s office didn’t say whether the government is considering the proposal, but noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that all workers in Canada can now make up to $ 1,000 a month without their CERB or CERB EI payments are reclaimed.

But Griffin said it was time for extraordinary action.

“Money is an important motivator,” she says. “We have to get Canadians into the field.”

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