January is the time for resolutions, fresh starts and new ideas. In that vein, here are a few of my personal hopes and wishes for Canadian farmers and those who work in the agri-food sector in 2022.
COVID under control – While the Canadian agri-food sector has weathered the two years of pandemic relatively well, COVID has definitely taken a toll. Farmers very much fit the definition of ‘essential workers’. Without their efforts, Canada’s food supply would most definitely be in jeopardy. While farming is in many cases a solitary effort – working the land, seeding, applying crop protection products, harvesting and transport can all be performed in relative isolation – farmers are also social creatures. They flock to trade shows and meet at coffee shops, curl, play hockey and baseball, pop into their retailer for a cup of coffee, and enjoy social gatherings on the farm. Here’s hoping these can all return as winter turns to spring this year.
Rain for western Canada – There’s no doubt that drought was a big damn deal in western Canada in 2021. When Agriculture Canada did its assessment at the end of July, the drought covered 93 per cent of the agricultural land in western Canada, affecting 45.9 million acres of cropland, 52.6 million acres of pasture and over two million cattle. Here’s hoping that a combination of snowfall plus timely rains will make the 2022 season more ‘normal’, whatever that is these days!
Some love for dairy farmers – The Canadian dairy industry seems forever under scrutiny for its supply management (SM) system. The other supply-managed commodities — chicken and turkey products, table eggs and broiler hatching eggs – don’t seem to receive the same negative publicity as dairy. Supply management is complex. It was initiated in the 1960s to address fundamental problems that led to both milk shortages and over-production and waste, along with volatile incomes for dairy producers. And while our trading partners dislike the aspect of SM that restricts access to the Canadian market, the system has effectively solved the domestic issues it was intended to solve. Most importantly, Canadian dairy producers are among the most productive and efficient in the world. Not to mention the most hard-working. Up before dawn to milk the cows, tending to sick animals, assisting with calving – dairying is a 24-7, 365-day-a-year vocation. And while technologies like robotic milkers make milking cows a bit easier on knees and backs, it’s still hard work. My wish is that Canadians give at least a thought to the value that Canadian dairy producers deliver each and every day, and maybe a tip of the cap to the shiny stainless steel milk truck as it heads up the laneway and down the highway.
An easing of labour challenges – The food processing sector, along with specialty crop producers (fruit, berries and vegetables) and other farm businesses, have been particularly impacted by COVID-related labour shortages. These sectors rely heavily on a combination of temporary foreign workers and lower-paid general labourers. According to Farm Credit Canada, one job in eight in Canada is connected to the food system, or about 2.2 million food system workers in total. Labour shortages were a factor before COVID, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Here’s hoping that progressive new government policies, abatement of the pandemic, and increases to minimum wage levels will help alleviate this challenge in 2022 and beyond.
Resolution of the potato export situation – 2021 was particularly challenging for Maritime potato producers and exporters. In late 2021, Canada halted exports of fresh potatoes to the US over concerns about potato wart fungus, a disease that can decrease crop yields, but luckily poses no threat to human health or food safety. While it is unclear if this is a real threat or a symptom of larger Canada/US trade tensions, suspension of trade for any length of time could prove disastrous for producers, and creates a significant level of uncertainty heading into the 2022 planting season. Potatoes are a tricky crop to grow at the best of times. Worrying about where and how to market the crop could be catastrophic for many operators. Wishing a speedy and satisfactory resolution to the current dispute, and smooth sailing for potato producers going forward.
Wishing everyone in the agri-food sector a safe, happy and productive 2022!