Gov’t must do more on African swine fever front

It’s critical to get the agriculture portion of the next federal budget right. Then Canada can use the relative health of the farm economy to help rebuild the post-COVID future.

The things the Trudeau Liberal government identified several years ago as being potential growth areas for the economy remain in place, despite the economic damage around us.

They included a goal to raise Canadian agricultural exports to $70 billion annually through strategic public investments, transportation policy changes and improved risk management tools that encourage farmers to embrace new technologies and expand their operations.

Our ability to put exports into position has never been greater than it is today as we set grain movement records and anticipate the benefits of a favourable growing season across most of the Prairies.

Burgeoning global demand, spiked by improved political conditions in some importing countries, has helped firm up prices. Canadian agriculture is based on exports. Policies that provide predictable cash flow and regular profitability could establish an improved agricultural investment climate that would bolster Canadian economic sustainability.

Farmers need to be able to count on the rest of the nation to do their parts. That includes writing budgets that consider perils such as African swine fever.

The current budget does not reference funding for the prevention and mitigation of this very real threat to Canadian agriculture.

ASF has now spread to Germany, after running through Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. If it were to land in Canada, it would devastate pork exports.

Travel restrictions related to the pandemic may have temporarily limited the ways ASF could reach North America, but the need to fund a prevention and mitigation strategy is no less important than it was in the last budget.

Funds for the 24 new dogs that sniff out food, plant and animal products at the ports of entry must be renewed. So do the media campaigns that encourage vigilance and awareness among non-farming Canadians and the advanced government inspection of imported feed ingredients. Support to continue development of response plans with the provincial agriculture departments and with the industry’s ASF Executive Management Board is also necessary. And there needs to be continued funding for the Government-Industry Hog Supply Working Group, which looks at the whole supply and production chain in the event of an ASF infection.

Farmers need assurance that the government can and will implement the internal zone system should ASF arrive. More than 60 percent of our hog and pork export sales are with countries that support the international disease control zoning. This includes our largest market, the United States. If ASF should arrive, Canada’s commitment to international rules and our own Health of Animals regulations kicks in, immediately ending our exports of pork and hogs.

In that dire circumstance, compensation programs for herd loss and disposal are imperative.

The hog sector exports more than 70 percent of its production, resulting in more than $4 billion in sales. About 90 cents out of every one of those dollars is spent in Canada on feed, transportation, and wages on farms and in processing facilities. Nearly 50,000 jobs rely on the sector.

When it comes to livestock, the challenge of restarting operations after a significant pause, such as an ASF outbreak and depopulation would require, is financially and logistically significant. When combined with international market losses, it could mean the end of the nation’s hog production as we know it.

We haven’t seen the details of the next budget, but it must contain line items to address the ASF threat if producers are expected to take seriously any government pledges for growth in the agricultural sector.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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