Covid 19 Challenges Increase On Canadian Farms

It has turned cold this week across SW Ontario and we even had a skiff of snow last earlier. That’s not too unusual for late April in these parts as skiff of snow are so much different than what we can expect in a Canadian winter. Needless to say, at least in these parts its drier than normal. Hopefully that means in short order I can get in the fields.

I say that meaning normal times and we know, there is nothing normal about what’s going on. In many ways, Covid19 is erasing so many gains in the agricultural economy. Whether its milk being dumped, hogs not being slaughtered, meat processing being shut down or picking up parts on the curb, it’s a world we don’t know. Needless to say, the weather doesn’t know that. If spring opens up early, here we go.

Some people are not good at change, but as you’ve heard me say many times, as farmers, change is our only constant. Needless to say, the restrictions and limitations of Covid19 are daunting and rising every day. My farm is simple compared to many, but as we all know, Canadian agriculture relies on the sweat of many people, keeping that together this year, is not always happening.

I get a lot of calls from farmers and requests for interviews in the best of times. I guess after several decades it comes with the territory. This morning I heard from a farmer who had offshore workers. As required by the Canadian government, these workers are self-isolating for 14 days. He is still required to pay them as they self-isolate. They are chomping at the bit to work and he needs the labour. He suggested that if there was testing, those workers likely could go to work, saving everybody a lot of aggravation and ensuring everyone’s safety. I thought he made good sense, but of course as everybody knows, testing has been a problem in Ontario and well as many other jurisdictions around the world.

Unfortunately, for farmers like him who grow horticultural crops, it’s becoming a calamity. Some farmers are simply walking away from these crops as they don’t have a lot of options if they cannot harvest them. Asparagus is one example, there are others, where a risk management agency like Agricorp will not give any guarantees that they will cover crops unable to be harvested. This is an aside from demand shifts, where food slated for food service is rotting in some fields in the American south. No one is asking for sympathy here, more so solutions that might work, where one constant might be Covid19 testing. Then at least you know what is there.

This is when it gets beyond what I know. When it comes to public health recommendations, I simply follow them. Premier Doug Ford in Ontario has been pushing for testing. However, it hasn’t turned out to be as available as he would like. Things are complicated just like the Covid19 virus. However, as we move ahead into whatever is our future, testing will be part of that way forward. With testing, people can be identified and isolated. Then work might be able to take place. However, a vaccine we need.

A vaccine means certainty. That’s one reason why we likely won’t have a vaccine until 2022. I know, there is a full court press on now to get one with the whole world looking. However, you can’t work halfway, people have to have confidence in it. It has to work 100% and that’s very difficult to come up with. Looking ahead, how comfortable would you be going to an agricultural conference or a sporting event without a vaccine? I don’t think so, I’ll be staying home.

Keep in mind the pressure on governments. These people have quite the weight on them as there are a myriad of problems which are imperfect at best without a vaccine. Canada’s Agriculture minister Marie Claude Bibeau has responded to a myriad of concerns. For instance, earlier in April the federal government announced $1500 per worker to cover costs as offshore workers self-isolate. She has also said that Canadians might expect higher prices and less variety as we move ahead, based on the all the problems we have in the supply chain. She has her challenges especially when you are considering Canadian farmers are risking their lives to feed Canada and they are doing that without the support that’s coming to competing farmers, our competitors to the south. It is what it is.

Of course, risk is part of our world at the best of times, but during Covid`19, it’s so much more. Needless to say, our political leaders are looking to someday “open” things up again. In late April the American President announced his four phase roadmap to move ahead. He has said he wants to do that, as long as he can do it safely.

At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about, keeping safe. There are all kinds of problems and it might get very hard. I’ve turned the news off and have listened to more music than I have in a lifetime. Uncharted water is such a challenge. Surely there will be some good news someday.