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March 31, 2020  -  COVID-19 and Agricultural Support


Not much has really changed

While researching this article, it quickly became apparent that day old news was, well…no longer news, it had lost its relevance. On a fast-changing world stage, humanity has ventured into the unknow where mankind no longer determines the timeline, a new virus does.  

Since the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19), humanity finds itself in new, uncharted territory. The future can no longer be reliably counted upon, even anticipated beyond a day, or even a few hours. And that has created uncertainty and worry about what lies ahead.

Monumental efforts to implement emergency measures to contain the virus and "flatten the curve” are lauded by a populous willing to accept short term hardship for the benefit of all.  

A variety of income and support programs and deferred or reduced payment options will ease the blow for much of the population and some businesses, but a recent Federal announcement left many in the industry wondering where the meat was in the agricultural support stew.

With a story book image of farming, most of the population are unaware that agriculture is a highly competitive global industry that often receives special attention from governments around the world to ensure farmers survive. This support takes many forms: subsidies and protectionism, or a commitment to research and export market development.

As a global industry, the last few years in Canadian agriculture have been profitless to say the least. In Alberta, particularly since 2015, changing trade agreements and protectionist tariffs, coupled with low oil prices and derailed infrastructure projects have decimated the economy. 

 Still struggling over the effects of the ongoing Huawei debacle, which drastically reduced Chinese trade and hit canola producers particularly hard, Canadian farmers have taken the brunt of lost markets and tumbling prices.   

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau rolled out a series of new measures that for farmers and our primary food producers, would boost Farm Credit Canada support from the Federal Government by an additional $5 billion in lending capacity to producers, agribusinesses, and food processors.  

Eligible farmers with outstanding Advance Payments Program (APP) loans due on or before April 30, will receive a Stay of Default, allowing them an additional six months to repay the loan. 

To quote, "The Stay of Default will provide farmers the flexibility they need to manage their cashflow when facing lower prices or reduced marketing opportunities.” 

Farmers who still have interest-free loans outstanding can apply for an additional $100,000 interest-free portion for 2020-2021, as long as, their total advances remain under the $1 million cap.

The announcement might have left the general populous with a good feeling about providing money for our struggling farmers, but in reality, there was no support for food producers beyond extending and expanding credit.  

In contrast, in 2020, a third round of the MFP (Market Facilitation Program) is being discussed as a part of the U.S. trillion-dollar stimulus which would include $50 billion in funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).

The MFP provides assistance to farmers and ranchers with commodities directly impacted by unjustified foreign retaliatory tariffs, resulting in the loss of traditional export markets. Payment rates range from $15 to $150 per acre, depending on the impact of unjustified trade retaliation in that county.

To their credit, the Alberta government has fished $153 million out of its emergency disaster fund to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and help hard-hit farmers.

The province is also handing an additional $74.7 million to the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) to help cover insurance claims and pay income support for producers. The boost is a nearly 25 per cent increase from the $279 million in provincial funding allotted to AFSC in the 2019 provincial budget.

With U.S. farmers receiving large Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments and Canadian producers, larger loan programs and expanded debt that must be serviced, it is a wonder how Canada can compete on the world stage.

Based on how the U.S. and Canada support of their farmers differently,  there is a concern that if this divergence goes on much longer, Canada will gradually become less competitive, while the U.S. continues to push the boundaries of the WTO, giving its producers a chance at longer term success.

But this really is old news. While in the midst of calving, attempting to salvage unharvested crops, getting ready for spring seeding and still hoping for limited supply chain interruptions, resilient producers will find a way to keep up food production, for now at least, because it is what they do.


PLEASE NOTE

Due to the increased presence of COVID-19 in Alberta, Clearwater County has cancelled all public events until April 17, 2020 (this will be evaluated on a weekly basis) and is implementing protocols to assist in managing risks of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.  As of March 18, 2020, all County offices are closed to public access (open by appointment only), until further notice, and the public is encouraged to use alternative communication tools such as phone, email, website or social media.  


Coming Events and Programs

  • Applications Now Available for Conifer Seedling Program 2020 – In partnership with West Fraser, white spruce and lodgepole pine tree seedlings are available for purchase/ planting in Clearwater County. These quality, one-year old seedlings will arrive mid-July ready to plant. More information and order forms available through Clearwater County's Clear Water Landcare staff at the Agriculture and Community Services department office or email Danielle dens@clearwatercounty.ca. Order deadline is May 22, 2020.
  • Hemp fiber mats – since weeds rob tree seedlings of moisture, nutrients and sunlight, new plantings may benefit from this form of weed management.  Mats can be purchased in 12- or 18-inch squares for $0.40 and $0.50 cents respectively.  Place an order with your 2020 seedling order or separately.

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