Business continuity was a high priority for farm leaders when COVID-19 first disrupted access to markets and labour.
Working capital, tax deferral programs and reductions in red tape were among the options that Reg Ens, executive director of the BC Agriculture Council, put forward.
“Those are the kinds of things we’re thinking of right now rather than AgriStability,” he said at the time.
Programs were quickly announced to let individuals and businesses defer taxes and industry won a deal to let seasonal workers enter the country to work on farms (subject to provincial regulations).
On May 5, however, with several provinces announcing plans to ease restrictions, Ottawa stepped into recovery mode and began announcing adjustments to business risk management programs such as AgriStability and AgriInsurance as part of a $252 million aid package for agri-food businesses.
Some of the measures include working with the provinces and territories to increase interim payments under AgriStability from 50% to 75% to address drops in revenue associated with COVID-19.
Ottawa is also considering including labour shortages as an insured risk for the horticulture sector as part of AgriInsurance.
“This work with provincial and territorial partners would insure against lost production due to an insufficient workforce, should producers be unable to find enough labour to harvest,” Trudeau’s office said.
The supports were widely panned by farm organizations as insufficient, amounting to less than a tenth of the $2.6 billion the Canadian Federation of Agriculture requested last week.
“The amount is not enough on its own to avert negative impacts to Canadian food supply in the coming months,” the CFA said in a statement, with president Mary Robinson saying direct support was still needed before existing programs could be tapped.
“CFA worries that the government’s position on using existing business risk management programs, such as AgriStability, before rolling out additional funds will result in support arriving too late to make a substantial and positive impact on domestic food security,” she said.
Sources within the BC industry variously described the May 5 announcement as a “non-event” that would do little to address the challenges farmers face.
Even the dairy sector, which cheered elements such as an extra $200 million in borrowing capacity for the Canadian Dairy Commission to purchase of surplus product, said the announcement fell short of industry needs.