The agriculture sector could be a major player to lead the Canadian economic recovery from COVID-19 shutdowns. Much of the opportunity is tied to food security and our value-added processing services.

The University of Calgary’s Simpson Centre for Agricultural and Food Innovation and Public Education recently released a report summarizing food security during the shutdowns and the impacts on primary agricultural producers.

The author, Dr. Kerri Holland sat down with host Shaun Haney to discuss the major findings of the report and what she foresees as solutions to some agricultural issues. (Story continues below):

“We need to look at agriculture as the backbone of our economy and it can play a huge role in our economic recovery going forward,” Holland says. Agriculture has proven that it is more than an active participant in the economy and  contributing to jobs and the GDP.

Primary producers were suffering economically before COVID-19 happened says Holland — the ban on Canadian canola to China, the CN rail strike, the harvest from hell, and the rail blockades earlier this year were already weighing on western Canadian farmers.

“If primary agriculture is going to thrive the way that government wants it to and contribute economically, we need to support our farmers better,” says Holland, “government needs to step up, and so far their response has been very inadequate.”

Holland says that supporting farmers in the short-term means the proposed emergency agriculture funds should go forward to get cash to more farmers in a timely fashion. “Farmers need cash, not more debt,” says Holland, and many of the announcements from the federal government are just an iteration of existing programs. The funds available are not in proportion to the losses suffered so far she says.

Going forward, geopolitical issues need to be resolved and trade barriers for products removed. Reforming business risk management programs that are clearly not working for most Canadian farmers will also be necessary, according to Holland.

Making the various agriculture sectors more resilient by building more value-added processing, attracting more domestic labour, and facilitating more temporary foreign workers into Canada, to support primary production and processing are just some of the tangible solutions thatHolland

How is agriculture going to really change, who’s going to have the vision to do it?

“It’s so frustrating to see how agriculture is treated in general in Canada, there’s not the amount of attention that it deserves,” says Holland.  “In order to get any policies change, you really do need public attention.”

When speaking about COVID-19 in particular, Holland says that there is one silver lining in all of this—that the public is more aware of the food system, and how the recent disruptions can affect food supply and affordability.

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