Growing consumer support for agriculture could pay dividends post COVID-19

COVID-19 has certainly made Canadians more aware and concerned about their food supply. But will public acknowledgement of the importance of the agriculture and food sector lead to more financial and policy support?

“This is the first time many Canadians have gone to the grocery store and seen bare shelves… and it’s got them thinking,” says Peter Seemann, president of  Grassroots Public Affairs, which has just released findings from its second annual agriculture and food public opinion poll. Based on the results, it’s clear Canadians are concerned about the Canadian food supply and feel the sector should be supported as it struggles with challenges posed by COVID-19. Key findings from the Grassroots Greenhouse 2020 report include:

  • 64% of Canadians believe that hunger and food insecurity will worsen in future as a result of COVID-19.
  • 97% trust the quality of food grown or produced domestically.
  • 92% endorse government support for the agriculture and agri-food sector.
  • 87% believe that agriculture and agri-food is a leading economic driver in Canada.

The numbers “demonstrate that Canadians prefer to buy and consume food grown and processed in Canada. And we need politicians to start recognizing that,” says Seemann. He also notes the poll indicates 86% of Canadians believe agriculture and food plays a key role in Canada’s national security and critical infrastructure, with the sector coming second only to health care in terms of importance. “People are generally very supportive of what Canadian farmers and food processors are doing.”

Last week the federal government pledged $252 million in various COVID-19 funding and credit programs aimed at agriculture. The announcement was met with collective disappointment from agriculture and food leaders with many describing it as a first step, but far short of the support required.

Seemann believes it’s fair to say the attitudes of Canadians were not reflected in the Liberal government’s commitment. He understands the sector’s frustration, but acknowledges that the underwhelming level of support was not unexpected.

Seemann notes that Canadian agriculture has prospered in the last several decades, becoming a top-five exporter of food globally. Very little of that success can be attributed to government leadership at the federal level, regardless of whether Liberals or Conservatives held power in Ottawa.

(Listen to Bernard Tobin and Peter Seemann discuss how growing consumer support for agriculture could pay dividends post COVID-19. Story continues after the interview.)

Considering the short shrift given agriculture in recent history, it’s difficult to expect governments stepping up in the middle of a pandemic, says Seemann. “We have a minority government right now that’s very much focused on COVID-19 and having to look after Canadians, but food is an integral part of that.”

Seemann does believe consumer support and the growing awareness of food and agriculture during the pandemic could pay future dividends. “The sector has an opportunity to continue to promote the benefits of a more robust, profitable and prosperous agri-food sector for the benefit of all Canadians,” he says, but there’s still a lot of work to be done educating increasingly urban Canadians.

“The industry needs to be more positive, more focused on opportunities and continue working to educate not just the general public, but the politicians,” says Seemann. “I’m hopeful we can get there because the country is going to have to look at the economy from a different lens moving forward to make it sustainable.”

Grassroots Public Affairs surveyed 1,004 Canadians during April 16 to 20, 2020.

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