PEI

Federal government working to find more relief for food industry following initial aid package

As $252 million in federal funding was announced on Tuesday to help farmers and food processors through COVID-19, some growers and producers are left wondering how far it will take them. 

'We will do more, that's for sure'

Tuesday's announcement came as some farmers have begun the spring planting season and are forced to make decisions that will impact the fall's harvest. (CBC)

With $252 million in federal funding announced Tuesday to help farmers and food processors through COVID-19, some growers and producers are left wondering how far it will take them. 

The money earmarked by the federal government is well below the $2.6 billion emergency aid package the Canadian Federation of Agriculture — of which the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture is a member — was looking for.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the funding "an initial investment," at Tuesday's announcement.

The federal package includes:

  • $50 million to purchase surplus production, which Trudeau said would then be distributed to organizations that address food insecurity, like food banks.

  • $77 million for food processors to help them retrofit and expand to deal with a backlog of livestock in the country, and to increase worker safety.

  • A $125 million boost to the AgriRecovery fund, a program that helps farmers during disasters, meant to help beef and pork producers who have to feed their animals for longer because there are fewer markets to sell them.

The idea behind that is to buy the surplus and send them to the most vulnerable, to the food banks.— Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of agriculture

Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of agriculture, says while the challenges of each of Canada's industries are important, they're different.

Surplus

"We already have a number of programs available. We're really working hard to identify what can be covered under the regular program, where are the gaps," Bibeau said. 

"And we thought we were ready to announce for the meat sector mainly … to support them with the extra costs that they have to face because we're seeing a lot of our processing facilities slowing down or even closing."

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says while the challenges of each of Canada's industries are important, they're different. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

As a result of the pandemic, farmers on P.E.I. have been reporting a surplus of products, including potatoes and cabbage

Many are struggling to figure out what to do with the excess products and are particularly concerned with how the aid package will help them to deal with the issue and move forward from COVID-19.

In response, Bibeau said the federal government has allocated $50 million to purchase the surplus. 

We will do more, that's for sure.— Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of agriculture

"The idea behind that is to buy the surplus and send them to the most vulnerable, to the food banks," she said. 

"We want to support the farmers and the people who are also facing food-security challenges right now."

Federal government weighing options

As the federal government continues to navigate the COVID-19 situation, Bibeau said many options remain on the table in providing aid to Canada's agricultural sectors. 

"I would also encourage the farmers to apply to AgriStability, of course I know they would like it to be more simpler and more generous but still the program is available for them," she said. 

Bibeau says the federal government also acknowledges the labour challenges facing farmers. (Brian McInnis)

"There's also a lot of money, overall, across the country in the AgriInvest account. It's a kind of saving account where the government puts up to $10,000 matched, the same level as the farmers do." 

She said the AgriInvest initiative accounts for $2.3 billion invested into the industry across Canada. 

"We will do more, that's for sure." 

Food waste

At this point, she said it's difficult to tell, even with the federal governments programs, how much food will go to waste because of COVID-19.

"We want to give more borrowing capacity to the Canadian Dairy Commission, so they can buy cheese and butter and to put it back on the market later," she said. 

"We are trying in different ways to avoid food waste."

It's always a challenging job to be a farmer because there are so many risks.— Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of agriculture

Even in the midst of a global health crisis, Bibeau said Canada is lucky to have a strong supply chain for food.

"It's very challenging right now, we might have some challenges in terms of variety," she said.

"Hopefully not, but there might be some challenges in terms of price of certain production, but we are working very closely with the farmers and with all the stakeholders … to try to avoid any significant disruption."

Bibeau said the federal government also acknowledges the labour challenges facing farmers. 

"This is why we have made some changes to the emergency benefit for students to encourage them to go to work … we are working very hard on the temporary foreign workers," she said.

"We really understand how hard it is. It's always a challenging job to be a farmer because there are so many risks and this one is a national one." 

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.

  • Cough.

  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning and Kerry Campbell

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