Posthaste: Canada could lose 15% of its farms by the end of the year with the worst agricultural pandemic to come

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For Canadian farmers, hit by labor shortages, processing plant closings and dramatic changes in demand, the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come, says an agriculture expert.

“Ottawa should be praised for helping many desperate sectors of our economy. But given how urban the government is now in Ottawa, agriculture has been somewhat overlooked. The problem with the foreign worker program was only the beginning, the worst is yet to come. Farmers need help and quickly. Otherwise, Canada could lose up to 15% of its farms by the end of this year, “said Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Senior Director of the Agri-Food Analysis Laboratory at Dalhousie University, in a recent note.

Seven meat processing plants in Canada have been closed due to epidemics of COVID-19 among workers and more are expected, he said. One of the largest Cargill beef processing plants in High River, Alberta, will reopen on Monday. The plant, which accounts for approximately 40% of Canada’s beef processing capacity, was closed for two weeks after the virus rampaged among the 2,000 employees; 826 employees and over 100 contractors linked to the plant tested positive for the coronavirus; one died, Bloomberg reports. In Alberta, approximately 1 in 5 cases of COVID-19 is now linked to the High River plant.

An almost deserted Cargill Meats plant near High River after it closed due to COVID-19. The plant is slated to open on Monday.


Darren Makowichuk / Postmedia

At the JBS meat plant in Brooks, Alberta, coronavirus cases have reached 200, says Bloomberg. JBS said it would try to keep its facilities open, but “we will not operate a facility if we do not think it is safe or if absenteeism levels prevent us from operating safely,” said Spokesman Cameron Bruett in a statement.

“Closures can be quite disruptive for the entire supply chain. But the hardest hit are the farmers, ”said Charlebois.

The beef industry entered this crisis with a large backlog, which means that farmers are forced to keep thousands of cows longer on feedlots, which increases costs.

The hog industry crisis is even worse. Charlebois said some reports suggest that more than 90,000 hogs will likely have to be culled due to the slowdown in production where there is “little or no leeway.”

Mushroom growers lose $ 400,000 a week because almost half of their income comes from restaurants, which are now closed during a pandemic closure. “For the moment, no program linked to COVID-19 can help them. Many other groups are affected or will be affected sooner or later, ”he said.

Ottawa is providing $ 50 million to cover the costs of quarantining foreign farm workers entering the country and has increased Farm Credit Canada’s lending capacity by $ 5 billion.

But compared to US $ 19 billion in aid to its farmers, Canada’s COVID-19 programs for farmers are “either inadequate or irrelevant,” said Charlebois.

He said an example of Ottawa missing an opportunity to help was the new Canada Student Emergency Benefit, which would provide $ 1,250 per month from May to August for students unable to find work or work due to of the pandemic.

“While some provinces are desperate to bring young Canadians into the field to help farmers, Ottawa is providing funding for students so they can stay home and do nothing. The student program has only made it harder and harder to recruit farmers, “said Charlebois. He said the risk of contracting COVID-19 on farms is extremely low, where “physical distance is something that farmers have done for centuries”.

Charlebois says the stakes for Canada’s food security are high. Canada generally loses between 5% and 7% of its farms each year, but that number could double this year or more.

“Throughout this crisis, to fight COVID-19, the government often compared the virus to a burning house and said it could not save water. The foundation of this house, so to speak, is agriculture. It is the foundation of our entire economy which, for the most part throughout this crisis, has been largely forgotten, “he said.

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OIL WASH Crude tankers are anchored in the Pacific Ocean outside of Long Beach Harbor and the Port of Los Angeles. Ships carrying enough crude oil to meet 20% of global daily consumption are gathered off the coast of California and have nowhere to go as fuel demand and prices plummet. PATRICK T. FALLON / BLOOMBERG

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  • The Parliamentary Budget Officer will post three PBO legislative costs on the Temporary Wage Subsidy, Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) on his website. PBO will release a new report entitled “Updating the Scenario Analysis: COVID-19 Pandemic and Oil Price Shocks”.
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  • Data of the day: Canadian GDP (February), initial unemployment claims in the United States, personal income and spending in the United States
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A new Statistics Canada and Canadian Chamber of Commerce survey provides the first field view of the state of Canadian businesses in this unprecedented coronavirus outage – and the numbers are bleak. Over 40% of Canadian businesses have laid off staff and 38% have cut their hours. As the graph below shows, 45% of the companies that have laid off staff have reduced their workforce by 80% or more. The accommodation and food services sector has been the hardest hit by the massive layoffs, reports Vanmala Subramaniam of the Financial Post, with almost 70% of these companies reporting a reduction of 80% or more in their workforce.

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  • Parents have a double duty during the pandemic: they often work at home and take care of their children and send them to school at home. Employers have to adapt – to some extent, says labor law expert Howard Levitt. Learn more about the responsibilities of employers and employees in remote working here____________________________________________________


Today’s Posthaste was written by Pamela Heaven (@pamheaven), with files from The Canadian Press, Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg.

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