Canada’s ranchers and producers, many of whom are located in isolated areas, are no doubt astonished by what they see going on in the rest of the world.
But rural dwellers are not isolated from the global pandemic.
Future generations will look back to see how well we reacted, how much we were willing to be inconvenienced to save the lives of those who were most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.
The Canadian border is shut down to all but essential travel and trade.
Some countries and several U.S. states are under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, which not only affects livelihoods but massive sectors of the economy. Canada had not issued such orders at the time of writing, but we have been told to work from home if possible, to practise social distancing and not to gather in groups of any size.
This will likely go on for months.
Who could have imagined just a few weeks ago that we would be counselled endlessly on how to wash our hands?
We are told we are still in the acceleration phase of the virus’s reach and that we can expect a second wave.
Yet we are dealing with it remarkably well. The apocalyptic scenarios of fiction have not happened. Panic buying includes buckwheat in Russia, durum in France, and toilet paper in Canada.
Leaders are telling us we will get through this. Of course we will. The issue is what do we do to get through it and how long it will take.
There is much uncertainty. Will farmers have enough fertilizer? Or chemicals? Will the price of inputs increase? Will producers be able to get spare parts fast enough to plant seed when their equipment breaks?
Will farmers be able to move their grain in a system that is backed up? Will they have access to the labour they need?
In the United States, several states and the federal government have declared agriculture an essential service, meaning the industry is exempt from the stay-at-home orders, and border trade is still vigorous.
While Canada’s grain system is backed up at the moment, it’s expected that bulk shipments will improve over the next few months.
Temporary foreign workers will still be allowed into the country with a period of self-isolation.
Cattle markets are agitated but the demand for beef is strong. People are buying and storing a lot of food.
The federal government has promised an $82 billion support package. The U.S. government is looking at more than $1.6 trillion.
As farmers take to the fields to plant this spring, they may face some slowdowns in deliveries of needed inputs and equipment, but they will come and the Prairies will produce a lot of food. In many respects, agriculture is poised to withstand this pandemic better than other sectors.
Export Development Canada chief economist Peter Hall says the stage is set for a robust recovery in exports once the COVID-19 crisis is behind us.
It’s important to remember that populations in rural centres tend to be older and we know the virus wreaks havoc on older populations. So rural dwellers must be as vigilant as those who live in urban areas.
In the coming weeks, many of us will wonder if we’re overreacting. What would the people in Italy and Spain say to that?
The foundation of Canada’s health-care system is that our society pays to look after everyone. Now, we are being asked, individually, to do the same through measures such as self-isolation, social distancing and good hygiene.
We must embrace that responsibility everywhere.
Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.