Ministers of Agriculture better position farmers and processors for recovery and growth
Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial (FPT) Ministers of Agriculture have held the first of two virtual meetings as part of their annual conference. Ministers gathered virtually to make key decisions to help ensure that our agriculture and agri-food sector remains ready to address the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and sector development. They discussed a number of initiatives to help Canadian producers and processors build on the sector’s solid fundamentals and chart a path forward for growth and sustainability, and will meet again for discussions on additional topics on November 27th.
As COVID-19 continues to impact Canada’s economy, and poses ongoing challenges for the agriculture and agri-food sector, the contributions of the women and men in the sector will be an important element of economic recovery. The sector has shown great resilience, adapting to tremendous change and continuing to deliver for Canadians. FPT governments have been working to support these essential businesses throughout the pandemic, to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe and nutritious food on their grocery store shelves.
FPT governments recognize the challenges farmers are facing. To help farmers continue to contribute to the recovery, Ministers reviewed and discussed possible options for improvements to Business Risk Management (BRM) programs which aim to provide producers with tools to protect the viability of their operations and to manage risks beyond their control. Ministers look forward to a productive discussion on BRM at their November 27th meeting.
Ministers recognized that workers across our food supply chain – whether Canadian citizens, permanent residents or temporary foreign workers – provide an essential service to our country, and emphasized the importance of working to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19 to provide safe and healthy workplaces. They also noted the need to be ready for the potential that long-standing labour challenges are compounded by COVID-19-related disruptions in the upcoming 2021 season.
Ministers agreed that labour will remain a top priority looking ahead to the next agricultural policy framework. To this end, FPT governments will work with their respective ministries of labour to help ensure the continued availability of labour to support the agriculture and agri-food sector, and highlight the opportunities that exist for Canadians looking for work.
FPT governments will continue to collaborate with industry to share best practices on current and future competencies needed to support sector renewal, careers in the sector, new and changing technologies, and recruitment and retention strategies. FPT governments will also continue to look for opportunities to support innovation and facilitate the deployment of technology to improve productivity and competitiveness, and continue to build on measures introduced since the spring to support producers and food processors. This includes efforts to ensure the safe arrival of Temporary Foreign Workers into Canada and the prompt sharing of relevant data among government partners. Additional key elements may include efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and address outbreaks, and to support health and safety measures on farms and in agri-food businesses, in collaboration with the relevant ministries within their jurisdiction.
Given the significant threat that African Swine Fever (ASF) continues to pose to the Canadian pork supply chain, FPT governments agree further action is required to prevent and prepare for ASF. FPT partners are supporting the government-industry Pan-Canadian ASF Action Plan, which will enable a timely and coordinated response to reduce the risk of an outbreak in Canada and, should an outbreak occur, support industry with a pan-Canadian coordinated, cooperative and prompt response to market challenges and disease eradication. Ministers asked officials to conduct more analysis on how an outbreak could impact different provinces and regions, and to return with regular updates on progress made on the Pan-Canadian ASF Action Plan.
Ministers also endorsed the progress made in the creation of Animal Health Canada, a proposed new government-industry management structure. Animal Health Canada is intended to help enhance stakeholder collaboration to implement actions to prevent, prepare for, and react to animal health emergencies, such as ASF. Ministers supported the efforts to further develop this coordination mechanism between FPT governments and industry using the ASF Executive Management Board as a working model, now currently in a pilot stage.
In official meetings in preparation for their annual conference, Ministers reviewed ongoing work on key regulatory priorities, towards a more agile regulatory system that protects food safety while enabling competitiveness in global markets. They underscored the importance of effective collaboration to respond to concerns from industry and the public to ensure that imported products respect Canada’s strict requirements, and to prevent food fraud. FPT governments also noted key accomplishments to streamline regulations to spur innovation and growth and reduce internal trade barriers.
The Canadian agri-food sector remains resilient, as exports of agri-food products continue to grow. Ministers noted that close collaboration among FPT governments remains important to spur this growth, in preparation for economies around the world to rebound. Ministers also discussed ways to maintain and develop new market opportunities for high-quality Canadian agriculture and food products to meet the export target of $75 billion by 2025.
“Farmers and agri-food businesses across the country are relying on their governments to help them address the many challenges they are facing. It has been a tumultuous year and, through it all, they have shown incredible resilience. These discussions are an important chance for my colleagues and I to collaborate on key measures we can take together to better support their success and continued ability to deliver for Canadians.” – The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri–Food
“This has been a most challenging year for our farmers and for the entire agri-food sector. I appreciate the collaboration by the ministers today and the headway made on important subjects including African Swine Fever and labour. I look forward to more of the same next week – particularly as it relates to seeking enhancements on business risk management programming available to producers.” – Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for Ontario
• Ministers will continue with day two of their virtual conference on November 27th with further discussions on BRM, retail fees, and key priorities for the next agricultural policy framework.
• Although COVID-19 has disrupted global supply chains, the Canadian agri-food sector remains resilient, and exports of agri-food products continue to grow, trending up eight per cent through the first eight months of 2020 compared to the previous year.
• Throughout the pandemic, federal, provincial and territorial ministers coordinated to maintain the integrity of supply chains and access to a diverse range of products. The agri-food sector demonstrated its robustness through the efforts of all entrepreneurs and workers to overcome the significant challenges caused by the pandemic.
• Agriculture and agri-food continues to be an economic engine driving Canada’s economy, contributing more than $140 billion to GDP and responsible for 2.3 million jobs, accounting for one in eight jobs in Canada.
• BRM programs, including AgriStability, help producers manage risks such as natural disasters, weather events, severe loss and market volatility. Farmers are always encouraged to make use of the programs, which can help them cope with difficult situations. On average, these programs provide $1.6 billion in support each year.
• Improvements to BRM programs have already been announced as a response to COVID-19. These changes extended the AgriStability enrollment deadline for the 2020 program year and boosted interim payments in most jurisdictions from 50 to 75 per cent, while committing $125 million to AgriRecovery (federal) to help beef, pork, and other producers cover up to 90 per cent of extraordinary costs related to the pandemic. The federal government also deferred repayment of up to $177 million in loans under the Advance Payments Program to help producers manage cash flow.
• This FPT meeting builds on discussions and decisions taken at the December 2019 meeting in Ottawa, where Ministers initiated action on a number of key proposals to improve support to Canadian producers.
• The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a five-year, $3 billion commitment by Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments that supports Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sectors. The Partnership aims to continue to help the sector grow trade, advance innovation while maintaining and strengthening public confidence in the food system, and increase its diversity. In addition, under the Partnership, producers have access to a robust suite of business risk management programs to help them manage significant risks that threaten the viability of their farm and are beyond their capacity to manage.
• The government of British Columbia is in caretaker mode due to its recent provincial election. Provincial officials attended the meeting as observers.