The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) says Canadians could see less food and higher prices at grocery stores if the government does not provide additional support for farmers grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Facing a severe labour shortage and rapidly rising costs amid the coronavirus outbreak, CFA president Mary Robinson said that farmers require “immediate, meaningful help” from the federal government in order to continue operations.
“Agriculture, the foundation of our overall food supply, is at this very moment in time at a tipping point,” Robinson said during a virtual press conference Thursday.
“If we do not, as a nation, address the rising challenges immediately, Canadian consumers could see a decrease in the amount and variety of food at their local grocery stores, as well as higher prices, in the months ahead.”
The CFA wants the government to establish an emergency fund for the agriculture industry, providing a financial backstop for producers and farmers dealing with rising costs. Robinson said farmers are currently considering leaving fields unplanted, or opting to plant food for animal feed instead of humans, which are cheaper to grow and require less labour.
“Right now, some farmers are so worried about mounting challenges that they are strongly considering halting their farming operations altogether,” Robsinson said.
“This is a potential tragedy, one Canada cannot afford.”
Labour has been a key issue for the agriculture industry, which relies on temporary foreign workers. About 60,000 people arrive annually in Canada to work on farms and in processing plants.
Earlier this week, the government announced it would provide funding to farmers to offset the costs of having temporary foreign workers quarantine for two weeks. Farmers will be able to receive up to $1,500 per worker, which can be used to cover wages or the cost of space while the workers are in mandatory quarantine.
The CFA applauded the government’s funding announcement, but said “much more” needs to be done to support farmers.
Robinson also urged Canadians to contact local members of Parliament and advise them to support farmers.
“We must ensure Canada’s domestic food supply is secure, not only for the duration of this battle, but long into the future,” Robinson said.
“We do not mean to create panic. At the same time, it would be irresponsible not to sound the alarm about the realities Canadian farmers are facing.”
With files from the Canadian Press