Agriculture weathers pandemic fairly well

Have you heard the story of the guy falling out of a five-storey building? As he drops past each floor, he calls out to the people on the balcony, “so far, so good.”

So far, in the economic freefall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, agriculture is in much better shape than a lot of other industries. We should brace ourselves and watch out for trouble ahead, but at this point it makes sense to see government support going to unemployed workers and struggling small businesses.

To its credit, the federal government has responded to calls for foreign workers to be allowed into the country to fill farm labour needs. And the feds seem to understand the need for continued food safety inspections even if some inspectors fall ill.

A deferral of cash advance repayments will be helpful for some producers with a lot of crop left to sell. An extra $5 billion in lending capacity for Farm Credit Canada is good optics, but it’s unclear whether there will be much uptake.

Meat processing plants appear to face some of the highest risks in the agriculture value chain, but other problems could also emerge. While an array of new worries are valid due to the pandemic, for the time being the economics of agriculture don’t look much different than they did before the disease crisis hit with full force.

Grain prices initially sagged, but recovered somewhat when the value of the Canadian dollar plummeted. Cattle prices dropped, but have also recovered much of their early losses.

Meanwhile, the price of diesel promises to be the lowest we’ve seen in years. Fertilizer is also more moderately priced than during many previous springs. Grain movement hit by numerous problems over the winter is gradually improving.

The requests being made of the federal government before the pandemic are still valid. Since the carbon tax is basically revenue neutral, it could be ended without costing the feds a lot of money and that would provide a small added stimulus to the entire economy. As for enriching programs like AgriStability or AgriInvest, that could be a tough sell given the billions upon billions being committed to the urgent needs that have recently materialized.

Some farmers and farm group leaders seem to take the attitude that since everybody else is getting government money farmers should as well. There’s also envy when we look south of the border and see all the money being doled out to farmers by the administration of United States President Donald Trump. They get cash while we get the ability to borrow more money.

Truthfully, a great many Canadians need financial help a lot more than farmers right now. Sure, there are no doubt farmers in financial difficulty. When isn’t there? But with a couple of billion dollars sitting unused in the AgriInvest accounts of farmers and with farmland still selling for big dollars, it’s clear the financial stress is nothing like that being experienced by retail businesses and the energy sector.

Agriculture should be asking only for measures that allow it to continue functioning.

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