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Coronavirus affecting ag-sector locally and across the province

by Sylene Argent COVID-19 has poised some challenges for local farmers, who continue to be resilient after overcoming many separate obstacles over the past year. Locally, as far as grain famers are concerned, Lyle Hall, President of the Essex County Federation of Agriculture (ECFA), said everything is going along okay to date. The inputs are available, so the crops, such as corn and beans, are going into the ground and are being planted. The ground is a little cold, so some farmers are being a bit cautious, he noted.   “The cash crop is okay as far are getting things done. Things are progressing,” Hall said.   There have been cuts across the ag-sector, however, because the demand is not there, Hall noted.   A lot of the food and agriculturally-produced products, Hall said, typically go to restaurants, but the demand is currently lower due to shutdowns or reducing business to just offering takeout. Farmers and producers, he said, are trying to repackage some of those products that were destined for restaurant usage to be distributed for sale to the general population, “But how much can be repackaged? It takes time to do this. It is just a different demand. They are tying to do what they can.”   Hall added, “We’ve got dairy farmers dumping milk, and it is not the right thing to do. But, you can’t turn the cows off, just like you can’t turn the vegetables off in the greenhouse, they’re growing.”   According to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Dairy farmers received a two-percent cut in their quota and producers will share the cost of dumping excess milk.   “It is going to take time to turn this around. Who knows. It is an adjustment period. Farmers are resilient, we try to adjust,” Hall said.   In a commentary from Keith Currie, President of the OFA, he said, “Farmers across all commodities have been greatly impacted by this crisis and have experienced loss of market access, increased production costs, supply disruptions, processing challenges, and revenue loss.” In the commentary, he noted labour shortages have impacted the growing season for many Ontario fruit and vegetable growers, Ontario beef farmers are losing around $2 million per week during this crisis, and changing marketplace and changing consumer demands because of COVID-19 has had egg farmers notice a 15 percent reduction in sales. In addition, Ontario beekeepers are losing pollination contracts.   The challenges COVID-19 has brought forward is not the first farmers have faced in the past year. Heavy rainfall last year caused concerns, which challenged crop yields and caused issues with Vomitoxin in some cornfields that were planted late due to the heavy rains. The high heat and humidity in the field when they were flowering in August is suspected in causing the blight to grow in many fields, Hall noted.   Things are looking good, so far, in avoiding Vomitoxin this year, Hall said. Corn crops seem to be not getting delayed in getting into the ground. This was followed by the CN strike, which stopped delivery of propane, when farmers were entering the harvesting and drying season for corn, and led to distribution issues. The second blockade, due to protests against the Wet’suwet’en natural gas pipeline, affected the farmers who use propane from getting this fuel source to keep their barns warm for birds and animals. “We are here to try to educate the people who are not aware of what farming is,” Hall said of the ECFA, adding agriculture is one of the leading sectors that contributed to the country’s economy.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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