Food supply chains require attention

A major part of being a farmer is always being up for a challenge. It is the lifestyle we chose, and we are proud to do it.

However, it is no secret that this year will be tougher than most.

Canadians are facing head-on the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have not been exempted from its hardships. From the impact on our communities to the way we deal with our input suppliers, grain handlers and commodity traders, we are balancing the importance of minimizing contact with the reality that Canadians need to eat.

For farmers in my area, our top priority is to make sure our families and employees are safe. Then we have to worry about finishing last year’s harvest (with acres and acres of crop still in the fields) before we even get to this year’s planting season.

This is all part of the new normal we face — but it is mostly under our control.

What keeps me up at night, however, are the factors that extend outside of my fields and beyond our borders.

Right now, it is no secret that agriculture is not our country’s top worry — and we do not need to be. Farmers can always be trusted to get the job done and we will deliver our product on time to the best of our ability. However, if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we are nothing without our supply chains.

From the fields to the grocery stores, this crisis has laid bare the critical need for food security in our country and throughout the world. Farmers play a big part of that, and every day we work to deliver. However, we are being hamstrung by the political willingness to address these issues — and our reputation is at risk.

We have seen trade disputes, rail strikes, illegal blockades, vessels waiting at port for delayed shipments and grain being held up on trains. Some of these are new problems, some are as old as time. They all have something in common though — they put at risk our ability to feed our country and our need to serve our international customers.

I may speak for myself here, but I do not believe the federal government is wilfully ignoring these problems. After all, it has set ambitious goals for growth in the agricultural sector and has previously recognized the importance of my industry to the Canadian economy. What we have here is a lack of political will to push these priorities through — and that becoming a new reality is what scares me most.

When farmers succeed, everyone does. When we deliver our grain or livestock and get paid, we support our communities, advertise with our local paper and sponsor the local hockey team. Our money stays in our communities, but we rely on a steady supply chain to keep it — and our grain — flowing.

So, in this new reality, what do we need to survive and thrive? The answer is simple. We need to be a priority.

This means giving us support through risk management programs when forces outside of our control wreak havoc. When the supply chain stops, we need to keep the cash flow moving until it starts again.

COVID-19 has touched every part of our country and a new reality for everyone has set in.

As a farmer, I am ready to tackle that challenge head on. We have your back, but we need the government to have ours.

Jeff Nielsen is the chair of Grain Growers of Canada and farms near Olds, Alta.

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