‘Positive step for sector’s immediate needs’: OFVGA responds to federal funding announcement
By Fruit and Vegetable
OFVGA says while there is more than needs to be done, the federal announcement is a positive step in support of domestic food security.
By Fruit and Vegetable
The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) released a response saying they are encouraged by federal government’s recent statements recognizing the importance of Canadian farmers and the domestic food system.
On May 5, the Canadian federal government announced an investment of more than $252 million to be split up across multiple streams to help producers adapt their practices, boost food processing capacity in Canada, and minimize food surpluses. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) also welcomed the announcement but stated that the amount is not enough on its own to avert negative impacts to Canadian food supply in the coming months. The $252 million falls short of the $2.6 billion ask that was submitted on behalf of CFA for an Agri-Food Emergency Fund.
Within the $252 million pledged, $50 million will go toward a first-of-its-kind Surplus Food Purchase Program designed to help redistribute existing and unsold agricultural inventories.
OFVGA says the program will benefit potato growers facing market disruptions due to rapidly changing consumer consumption patterns. Potato processors who manufacture french fries have seen a decline in sales because sit-down restaurants have closed and fast-food restaurant have limited operations to only delivery/drive-thru options. In response to the drastic drop in demand, many processing potato growers are dealing with potatoes in storage with no place to go. The Surplus Food Purchase Program is one way to match surplus inventories with areas in Canada that need them. Agricultural Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau stated that the government will be having conversations with food banks and industries to find where the biggest surpluses are and then match what’s available with the needs across the country.
“Although there is much more that needs to be done, yesterday’s funding announcements demonstrate that the federal government is beginning to take steps in support of domestic food security,” states Bill George, chair of the OFVGA, in a released statement.
Within the announcement, the federal government created a $77.5 million Emergency Processing Fund for food producers to access more personal protective equipment (PPE), adapt to health protocols, automate or modernize their facilities, processes, and operations in response to COVID-19. OFVGA encourages the government to include fruit and vegetable sorting and packing facilities in the programs announced for processors. “Packing houses operate like other food processing facilities and are necessary for ensuring quality fruits and vegetables are carefully packed and make it to retail shelves in a timely manner,” the release from OFVGA states.
The federal announcement also mentioned the intention for the federal government to work with the provinces to expand production insurance to include labour shortages related to COVID-19 as an insurable risk.
“As a sector that heavily relies on labour to plant, maintain, harvest, sort and pack fruits and vegetables, having labour disruptions backstopped is something the OFVGA has been recommending to government since the pandemic arrived in Canada,” George adds.
The OFVGA says their organization has been closely monitoring the impacts of COVID-19 on fruit and vegetable growers and the value chain since the pandemic began. An initial assessment and their recommendations were provided to the Ontario and federal governments in early April, with more detailed recommendations submitted on May 5, 2020. The most recent assessment and recommendations includes two measures that would make up an effective two-pronged compensation approach:
- A COVID-19 rider on top of the current AgriStability programming, providing supplemental coverage to the base program.
- highly targeted standalone quarantine support program modelled after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Animal Health Compensation.
“The OFVGA urges the federal and provincial governments to ensure that fruit and vegetable farmers have the confidence now to continue making investments in planting and maintaining their crops, despite the unique and increased risks presented by COVID-19,” says George. “Our approach is to ensure that financial supports exist if the need arises.”
OFVGA represents Ontario’s 3,500 fruit and vegetable producers on issues affecting the horticulture sector.