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Most of us are very much looking forward to closing the book on 2020. We can’t possibly move forward into 2021, however, without a last look back at the year that was — in the news, regarding policy, and everything else that caught our attention.
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 related news and events dominated the year’s stories, from empty grocery store shelves, to closed protein processing plants, and cancelled events. But there are some other top stories that are unrelated to COVID-19 and instead are focused on business deals, new products, and even mysteries!
Massive rural-urban internet divide growing during COVID-19
The disparity between urban and rural internet speeds was brought to light for far more people during the initial COVID-19 shut down. Millions of Canadians had to work or learn from home, and suddenly basic connectivity speeds that rural residents have been pushing for years mattered to many more. Will we see better internet for more rural communities in 2021?
“It’s the drinking water for 2 million people across Canada” — Alberta ranchers take Kenney government to court
A very recent story and one we’ll continue to follow up on, comes in at number 19. A change to an Alberta policy is threatening grazing land in the foothills and drinking water for millions, say ranchers in the area.
China agrees to continue current Canadian canola trade
Early in the year, overnight news broke that China was going to re-open fully to Canadian canola shipments, but the actual story was much less exciting, as instead, China had only agreed to continue trade under an MOU that was set to expire.
PERCY movie trailer creates negative narrative
This year, Hollywood decided to do its own take on the Percy Schmeiser intellectual property theft story — with some big names in the cast list. The movie, PERCY, was released just ahead of Schmeiser’s death in October. Many in the agriculture industry were more than a little unimpressed with the tone and accuracy of the film.
CFIA investigating reports of mystery seed packages
As if 2020 wasn’t weird enough, people in Canada and the U.S. began receiving packages of mystery seeds sent from China and other points east. The CFIA asked that anyone who had received the packages to send them in, to not plant them, or throw them out. This is one mystery that still hasn’t been entirely solved, though most of the seeds were identified.
New Zealand farmer sets new wheat world record at 258.8 bu/ac
2020 was one for the record books for winter wheat! A New Zealand farmer set a new world record for the crop at 258 bushels per acre.
One of Canada’s largest farm dealer networks announced it was going private. This initial story was very popular, as Rocky Mountain Equipment’s chair and president led a bid to take over the company. The deal was approved late in December.
Alberta JBS beef plant continues to operate with one shift
The pandemic put so many lives at risk, and also threatened several aspects of the food value chains. There were several stories on plant closures, but one of the top was the reported closure of the JBS plant at Brooks, Alta.
Agriculture was never going to get a blank cheque
As the pandemic closed businesses and threatened processing facilities, agriculture lobby groups pushed hard for some piece of the COVID-19 government spending. The federal government did announce some funding measures directly for the sector, but many felt it was far from adequate. A guest editorial by Stewart Skinner outlines why agriculture was never going to get what it asked for.
A&W sets its sights on serving 100% Canadian beef
It’s unlikely that A&W could launch a marketing campaign without cheesing off at least a few within the agriculture community. This year, the fast food chain announced its plans to continue with grass-fed beef, but now, they’re making it Canadian.
Olymel invoking force majeure clause; wants out of hog contracts
A Quebec pork processing plant closure prompted Olymel to invoke its force majeure clause on hogs moving from Ontario to the province’s plant. This story was one of so many outlining how protein facilities struggled with maintaining processing through a global pandemic.
Regarding farts, Burger King apologizes to beef producers
It may only rank as number 9 for the year, but this story wins top headline of the year. Burger King rolled out its own controversial marketing campaign claiming big wins on the methane front using lemongrass. Turns out, Burger King’s ad and its science didn’t pass the sniff test, and the company apologized to farmers.
Disrupting flow of fuel to farmers "our only option," says Unifor
Farmers and others were put in a rather precarious position when the Unifor strike and blockade meant fuel couldn’t get to where it was most needed. The union wrote an open letter to farmers, saying it was the “only option.”
Olymel pork plant shut down due to COVID-19
What happens when a major pork processor shuts down? One of the first plant closures sent shockwaves through the entire industry, not just the pork sector, when Olymel announced a 14-day shut down in March. We soon found out that while companies had done major work to contain a biosecurity risk involving livestock, the industry (and the world over) was unprepared for a human disease outbreak.
What happens if a COVID-19 case hits the processing sector?
Foreshadowing via this editorial from March asked the question, what happens if COVID-19 hits the packing industry? Unfortunately, we found out soon after this was written, but to the protein industry’s credit, all but the pork industry rebounded quite quickly to the plant closures.
Canada and U.S. take divergent paths to help farmers in crisis
Harkening back to our number 12 story, the governments of Canada and the U.S. took very divergent paths when it came to supporting the agriculture industry throughout the pandemic. The full impact of this is not likely to be felt until late next year or even further on from then, depending on how long the pandemic continues.
Total costs of rail blockade reaching a "tipping point" for agriculture: CFA
Remember back before March? We hardly do either, but interrupted rail traffic and rail blockades were a huge concern in February.
Freedom-of-information request filed to access a full list of Ontario farms
This year also saw a rather bizarre request from an anonymous source that used the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to try and get a list of all farms and farm businesses in Ontario. The province ended up nixing the release of farm business numbers, but was going to release all farm names. Several appeals were launched, but late in the year, the original request was withdrawn. Turns out, it was a business looking to gain customers that had hydro bill disputes.
Alberta Cargill beef plant slows to one shift, cancels cattle orders due to COVID-19 risks
High on the list of worries this year was processing shutdowns, and Alberta’s Cargill plant cutting back to just one shift was top of mind for many in early April.
At number one, guest author and RealAg Radio panel regular Andrew Campbell hits a home run with his editorial explaining why dairy farmers had to dump tanks and tanks of milk during the initial on-set of the global pandemic shut down.