OFA president discusses the challenges and resiliency of the ag community in the province
By Jackie Clark
As we pass the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers across Ontario are heading into planting season as well as another province-wide lockdown.
Though some parts of pandemic life have become routine, other problems for producers still require solutions, Peggy Brekveld, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), told Farms.com.
“Somethings have become ordinary, wearing masks when you go to pick up parts, the hand sanitizing,” she said. “We’re heading into the cropping season and cows still have to be fed, so there’s some routine in our lives (which) helps us look beyond the pandemic. But, saying that, I think there’s overall a lot of stress and quite a bit of difficulty still in the industry.”
For agri-businesses that interact with the public “protocols have been constantly changing. So, if you’re in direct sales or you’re doing agri-tourism, those portions of the agriculture community, it’s been difficult to keep up with what you can do and what you cannot,” Brekveld said.
Protocols around the arrival of temporary foreign workers have also been continuously evolving, “some (processes) announced very quickly and a lot of challenge with the practicality of a 10-day test,” she explained. “There’s a lot of frustration there.”
However, “the good news is that in a few communities the vaccinations have started for farm workers in congregate living,” she added.
Demand changes are also impacting some producers.
“A couple of industries have been really hard-hit because of the change in our eating patterns. We’re not going to restaurants, we’re not going to buffets, and we’re eating in smaller family units,” Brekveld explained. Turkey producers “have seen a 20 per cent cut in their quota, so that’s pretty significant for their industry.”
Many farmers are still finding it difficult to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE).
“There’s a real shortage in supplies, particularly N95 or dust masks,” Brekveld said. According to a recent OFA survey “16 per cent of farmers are currently unsure if they will to be able to keep their businesses open because of a lack of accessible PPE.”
The Ontario Budget had some encouraging notes, including the Enhanced Agri-Food Workplace Protection Program which allocates funding for facility upgrades and PPE, she added.
Farmers should also be mindful of their mental health.
For “a full year, many of the things we do to relax (have been) curbed or shut down, things like sports activities for us and our kids, or farm shows. I think we have to be very mindful of ensuring we check on mental health, look for ways to relax and restore, and reach out to others,” Brekveld said.
The pandemic is not yet over, but we must “keep on moving one step at a time,” she added. “As often as possible, reflect on the simple pleasures. The sun came up, the dog at your side, the smiles of your family members … we will come through.”