Agriculture sector welcomes recent “essential” designation

COVID-19: Companies say the announcement gives them clarity in their operations

Obviously agriculture is essential, but the federal government “deemed” it so April 2 as the country battles to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The move was welcomed by the Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA), which represents Canada’s biggest grain companies.

“For our sector we feel there’s enough clarity that we are to keep operating as an essential service,” WGEA executive director Wade Sobkowich said in an interview April 2.

“It’s in line with what we’ve seen from other jurisdictions and that’s very positive.”

That includes provincial governments and Homeland Security in the United States, which has also deemed the grain sector essential, he added.

Given federal and provincial governments stressing people should stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19, the WGEA felt it was important for the federal government to make it clear workers in the grain supply chain need to work if they are able to, Sobkowich said.

In its Guidance on Essential Services and Functions in Canada During the COVID-19 Pandemic document, the federal government lists 10 critical infrastructure sectors:

  • Energy and Utilities;
  • Information and Communication Technologies;
  • Finance;
  • Health;
  • Food;
  • Water;
  • Transportation;
  • Safety;
  • Government; and
  • Manufacturing.

The grain sector is in the food and transportation categories.

“The guidance will support critical infrastructure employers in identifying and managing their workforce, while fostering alignment and harmonization across sectors,” the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said in a news release.

“The guidance is non-binding and advisory in nature, and should not be considered to be a federal directive or standard.”

In a separate release Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the government is taking all the necessary measures to ensure Canadians have access to quality food at affordable prices.

“We know how essential the women and men who work on farms, in processing plants and throughout the food supply chain are to our collective well-being,” Bibeau said. “When we go to the grocery store, we can be confident there will be food on the shelves.

“Despite their concerns, food workers are on the job, working hard to make sure we all have enough to eat. Businesses and public health departments are working to protect the health of food workers.

“Know that our government will be there throughout this crisis to ensure your food security.”

What’s exempt in food production

In its Guidance on Essential Services and Functions in Canada During the COVID-19 Pandemic document the government lays out what’s exempt. Here’s what the food section says is covered:

  • Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies and other outlets that sell food and beverage products.
  • Restaurant employees necessary to support take-out and food delivery operations.
  • Food manufacturer employees and their supplier employees — to include those employed in food processing (packers, meat processing, fish processing, cheese plants, milk plants, produce, etc.) facilities; livestock, poultry, fish and seafood, slaughter facilities; pet and animal feed-processing facilities; human food facilities producing byproducts for animal food; beverage production facilities; and the production of food packaging.
  • Workers including those employed in animal food, feed, byproduct and ingredient production, processing, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labour needed to harvest and produce our food supply domestically.
  • Agriculture and aquaculture workers and support service workers including those who field crops; those responsible for fuel ethanol facilities, storage facilities, and other agricultural inputs.
  • Workers undertaking traditional harvesting activities, including fishing, hunting and agricultural activities.
  • Employees and firms supporting food, feed, and beverage distribution, including warehouse workers, vendor-managed inventory controllers.
  • Workers supporting the sanitation of all food-manufacturing processes and operations from wholesale to retail.
  • Company in-house cafeterias used to feed employees.
  • Workers in food-testing labs.
  • Employees of companies engaged in the production of chemicals, medicines, vaccines, and other substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichments, and other agricultural production aids.
  • Animal agriculture workers to include those employed in veterinary health; manufacturing and distribution of animal medical materials, animal vaccines, animal drugs, feed ingredients, feed, and bedding, etc.; transportation of live animals, animal medical materials; transportation of deceased animals for disposal; raising of animals for food; animal production operations; slaughter and packing plants and associated regulatory and government workforce, including provincial, territorial and federal inspectors.
  • Employees engaged in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment and other infrastructure necessary to agricultural, aquaculture, and fishery production and distribution.

About the author


Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.



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