Don’t take farming and food for granted says U of C report

Canadians and Canada’s governments shouldn’t take farming and food for granted.

That’s the bottom line of a June 9 report from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

“Food security in Canada is not something to be taken for granted and government policy action must reflect the essential service agriculture provides for our nation,” says analyst Kerri Holland in Canada’s Food Security During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Holland notes that Canada’s farm and food industries generally operate so well they draw little attention in terms of food security. However, farmers have been under intense stress not only today, but for an extended period prior to the pandemic.

“As the foundation of the food supply chain, Canadian farmers are key to its stability. As many farms were experiencing severe economic hardship prior to the pandemic, the challenges of market uncertainty and increased production costs put these operations at greater financial risk. Policy action will be key to ensure the short and long-term viability of our primary industry and maintain the capacity to meet domestic and export market demands.”

Holland says the present increased concerns about food security in Canada is a good opportunity for Canada to take more seriously the financial viability of Canada’s farmers. Present safety net programs and pandemic responses have not been enough.

“Canada is still in the early stages of crisis management but government support of Canadian agriculture has so far been largely inadequate in alleviating the financial impact on farmers. The Canadian government should take additional steps to alleviate the financial burden on primary producers, ensure export markets remain open and free from trade barriers, and commit to establishing a long-term agri-food strategy and action plan.”

Canadians have heard much about shortages of specific products on grocery store shelves and shutdowns of slaughter plants, but the simmering stress amongst crop growers dealing with multiple challenges, exacerbated by the imposition of the carbon tax on much of agriculture, is not generally known.

“Canadian farmers were experiencing significant economic hardship prior to the pandemic,” says the report. “Rising input costs, volatile weather conditions in the 2018 and 2019 growing seasons, labour shortages, international trade disputes and transport restrictions caused the CN Rail strike in late 2019 and rail blockades in early 2020 all manifested in major declines to net farm income and record levels of farm debt.”

The report recommends the federal government “should consider additional financial assistance for farmers more in proportion to the costs they have incurred due to supply chain disruptions. The government should also consider expanding funding beyond existing business risk management programs, as some sectors do not quality under current terms.”

Canada should also be using worldwide concern about food security to boost its efforts to build foreign markets, as other countries look for reliable suppliers of food.

“Successful government action will stabilize markets and ensure Canada’s economy is in the best position to recover and thrive.”

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