The Impacts on COVID-19 on the Agriculture Industry
Who would have ever imagined the chaos that the world would be in just a few months ago? Safe to say most people have been impacted in some way. Hopefully the worst is behind us, and a “second wave” is not still to come.
While it took some time, it was not surprising that the “essential service” declaration was put on our agriculture industry, food supply and all businesses connected to it. Of course our food supply is essential! What was surprising was where the weak links in the food chain really are. The biggest weak link and the most damaging to our economy was the temporary shut downs of the major beef packing plants in Alberta. That 85-90% of all beef processed in Canada goes through these two facilities was definitely a problem when workers got sick and the plants had to shut down for a time. While some stores ran short of beef on the shelves, the bigger problem was the backup of live animals in feedlots and on farms across this country. While they are up and running again, it will take some time for this to come back to a balanced flow again.
Another problem area for some farmers was the shortage of farm labour available when many of the Temporary Foreign workers that come to Canada each year were unable to get here. These foreign workers are willing, able, and trained in doing the work that many of our fellow Canadians will not do. You can’t expect persons that are unfamiliar with the tasks or equipment to just show up and do what is required. While our national unemployment rate was/is at extremely high numbers, bringing in these workers is still very important to getting many tasks done on time.
Other unexpected situations that arose in the past few months was the shortages of flour and yeast for bread baking, and also the shortage of garden seeds when people decided to plant gardens this year. Seed suppliers were sold out early. Hopefully all these gardens grow well and people will find pleasure and reward in growing some of their own food. My own garden kind of turned into a “community” garden and is fence-to-fence full this year. Along with gardens, many people are raising chickens this year. Many for the first time as well, some for eggs, some for meat. At times this spring, getting chicks when you wanted them was difficult, as the hatcheries were backed up due to increased demand. You will likely also be on a waiting list for local meat or to get them processed, but beef, pork, poultry and lamb are all available from area farmers.
We are blessed to be in a fertile, diverse agriculture area. Nobody is going to go hungry from a lack of available food. As we are now into summer, the variety of fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products is plentiful. Maybe the next shortages will be canning jars and lids or maybe freezers. Knowledge from the older generations in home preserving and cooking should be in good demand as well.
Our awesome farmers market is up and running with a great number of vendors every Saturday. Yes, there are rules and restrictions that are new, but our local “food entrepreneurs” are working hard to have a great supply for us this year. Please give them your support.
Unfortunately, the one link in the food chain most adversely impacted across the country has been the restaurant sector. As many were forced to close many weeks ago, the supply of various food items backed up quite quickly. Potatoes for French fries along with milk and cream most notably. While some restaurants are/were able to run as drive-throughs or take-out only facilities, not all could, and had to close totally. Even as rules relax for businesses to open, many restaurants still may not be able to comply with the social distancing requirements due to size, location, or their layout. Hopefully most will weather this pandemic and will reopen, but sadly, not all will. Give them your support as well when you can.
One more agriculture related casualty of the pandemic this year is the cancellation of our annual Fall Fair. With no glimmer of hope in being able to hold large gatherings of people like we get at the Fair, there was no choice but to join all the other Fairs around the province and the country in taking this year off. The last time Creston didn’t have a Fall Fair was 1969-71, when the current community complex was being built and no facility was available. Plans are underway to resume the Fair again in September of 2021.
Time to get out and enjoy a Creston Valley summer! Observe the crops and livestock that are growing like they always do. Harvesting of some are underway. Watch out for tractors and farm equipment on our area roads. This year many more people are more concerned about their food security. Agriculture is suddenly more “important”. That is a good thing! There is no better time to be Ag Aware.