By Patrick Meagher
SIMCOE — What is Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie‘s biggest headache?
“The federal government,” he said.
Ontario farmers were a disgruntled group by the end of April as the federal government dragged its feet on financial assistance. Rather than wait for an answer, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture launched a letter-writing campaign. In Ontario, the call went out to about 50,000 farmers to write to their federal Members of Parliament.
“We don’t want special treatment,” Currie insisted. “We’re looking for fair treatment because next to health care, food production should be next in the chain but it’s way behind artists and culture and heritage and students getting $9 billion and everybody under the sun and a lot of these employee and business subsidies (farmers) don’t quality for.”
April became the month from hell as farmers across many sectors faced varying degrees of hurt. Up to five per cent of milk, as well as eggs, were dumped because schools and restaurants shut down. Beef and pork producers are also looking at culling due to a huge backlog of livestock because some of the big slaughterhouses also shut down temporarily. Fruit and vegetable farms face the prospect of destroying crops if their foreign workers don’t arrive.
Farmers relying on restaurant trade have seen sales almost completely dry up. The equine industry has been whacked as stables closed. Farmers’ markets closed. The ornamental market has seen a 60 to 70 per cent drop in business this year. “Most greenhouses have a $250,000 compost pile right now,” Currie said.
“We’re saying to the federal government: Wake up here people. Sure, we’re eating fine now. You can go to the grocery store and you can get what you want but what will that look like in six, eight, 12, 16 months from now? What is that going to look like if we lose 20 to 25 per cent of our farm businesses?”
Looking past the pandemic, Currie argued that the country will need agri-food to restart the economy. “It’s not going to tourism. It’s not going to be automobiles. It’s not going to be the airline industry. It’s not going to be the restaurants. The government will need to invest in agri-food to stimulate jobs, he said.
Meantime, “the province has been very good to work with,” Currie told Farmers Forum. “All the provinces have been good to work with.”
Farmers seek pandemic assistance
By Patrick Meagher