The Canadian government is close to announcing more details on its program to buy surplus food, such as potatoes, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told reporters during a video conference on June 9.
“It’s a matter of days before we inform everyone of the criteria of the programs but we have already started to work with the different industries that have services that they can offer to the food bank networks,” she said. “So when the final criteria will be known very, very shortly, many sectors will already be ready to proceed.”
In addition to the buyback program, Ottawa is looking at using AgriRecovery to assist potato farmers who haven’t been able to sell last year’s crop.
“One province can ask the federal (government) to open the AgriRecovery program like we have done for the pork and beef producers, for example,” Bibeau said. “This is another channel we are looking at right now.”
The Grain Farmers of Ontario claims since American farmers are being subsidized to offset reduced revenues related to COVID-19 and Canadian farmers aren’t, Canada might have to import American food.
“In Canada these business risk management programs exist for a reason and it’s for farmers to have more predictability in the support they need,” she said in response.
“I know it can be better, but still it’s there and it should be recognized. We are very aware of the situation and to face the COVID pandemic we have put in place many measures to first support the people, and when people can eat it’s also supporting the industry.”
Bibeau reintegrated some of the ad hoc farm supports announced recently while speaking to the House of Commons agriculture committee June 10.
The Canadian Emergency Business Account can deliver over $2.6 billion in interest-free loans to 67,000 farmers, she said.
“With the ability to access $10,000 forgivable on a $40,000 interest-free loan, that can translate into $670 million in direct support to Canadian farm families,” Bibeau said.
“To help producers manage their cash flows, immediately, when the pandemic hit, we deferred payments on $173 million through the Advance Payment Program. And we increased the lending capacity of Farm Credit Canada by $5 billion, of which $4 billion has already benefited producers.”
Bibeau said she has been thinking about how COVID-19 is affecting farmers, including livestock producers seeing delays at slaughter plants and volatile prices.
Fruit and vegetable growers face labour challenges, she said. Markets have been lost due to restaurant closures.
“But there have been positive signals in the sector as well,” Bibeau said. “The demand and export of grains, oilseeds and pulses has increased. We are having record months for the movement of grain by rail. Our slaughter capacity is normalizing, and helping to clear the backlog.”