Aid package to agriculture aims $252 million at multiple pressures


OTTAWA — The federal government moved Tuesday to ease multiple pressures in Canada’s agriculture industry created by the COVID-19 pandemic with the promise of a $252-million aid package.

The funds fall far short of the $2.6 billion request for help last month from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the money is a starting point.

“We know that farmers still have concerns about what this pandemic means for their industry long-term,” Trudeau said.

The government is working with everyone involved to find lasting solutions, he said.

“This is an initial investment and if we need to add more, we will.”

Farmers and suppliers face a cascading series of problems.

The temporary foreign workers who plant and harvest food can’t all come to Canada, but if they do manage to arrive, they and domestic workers need equipment and supplies such as masks to keep them safe and able to do their jobs while respecting virus mitigation protocols.

Some $77 million was allocated to that problem Tuesday, with those funds also being used to expand domestic processing capacity.

Those funds factor into another issue. With workers in place, attention can turn to getting crops in the field or animals off to slaughter. But meat-processing plants in particular — some of which have been grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks among staff — are at capacity, and so there is nowhere to send the animals.

Trudeau announced $125 million for that area Tuesday as well.

If the products make it through processing, where to sell them? The closure of most of the country’s restaurants and hotels, but also disruptions in global supply chains, mean Canadians warehouses are packed full of food like potatoes. Milk is being dumped out because there are not enough customers and the product is spoiling.

Trudeau said Tuesday the government will spent $50 million to buy up surplus food before it goes bad and try to redistribute it to food banks.

The dairy-processing industry will be getting its own funds to buy up more milk and related products.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement builds on previous commitments to increase funding for farms, and to support temporary foreign workers, food banks and nutrition programs in the North.

“I care deeply about the well-being of our farmers and food production workers and understand how stressful this period is for them,” she said.