Ottawa unveils $252M aid package for farmers and food processors

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The federal government announced a $252 million financial aid package for farmers and food producers struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday.

But the support package falls “well short” of the $2.6 billion emergency funding that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture had requested in order to help maintain food security in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled details of the aid package on Tuesday, which he said would help support farmers, food processors and help address issues of food insecurity.

Trudeau said $125 million will go towards the AgriRecovery initiative, a federal and provincial partnership that helps producers recover from national disasters. The money will help cattle and hog producers who have to keep animals for longer periods due to the crisis, as processing plants across the country face capacity issues and outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus.

“For many farmers, this crisis means that they have to keep animals for longer periods of time – and that can be expensive,” Trudeau said.

“So, with this funding, we’re giving extra help to beef and pork producers so they can adapt to the crisis.”

Another $77 million will go towards supporting food processors through the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to purchase personal protective equipment and support other social distancing measures. Finally, $50 million will be used to launch a Surplus Food Purchase Program, where the government will buy large quantities of products that would have gone to waste because of capacity and demand issues.

“We know that farmers still have concerns about what this pandemic means for their industry long-term,” Trudeau said at his daily press briefing on Tuesday.

“Having enough workers for harvesting later in the season, having enough personal protective equipment for workers – those are valid concerns. I can assure you that we are working with farmers, stakeholders, and provinces and territories to find lasting solutions.”

Trudeau also left the door open to additional funding for farmers and producers.

“This is only an initial amount of support,” he said.

“We know there is more to do and we will keep working with them to determine exactly how we can best help.”

Last week, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture urged the government to create a $2.6 billion agriculture emergency fund. The amount was calculated based on losses and additional costs that will continue to mount as farmers grapple with the impacts of COVID-19. The industry group also warned that Canadians could see less food and higher prices at grocery stores if the government did not provide support.

“This emergency fund for immediate impacts of COVID-19 should only be seen as the first phase of emergency funding, to persevere through the issues the sector is facing today,” the organization said in a statement.

“It is very probable that more support will be required in the coming year as unforeseen challenges continue to emerge throughout the food supply chain.”

In an interview with CTV News, CFA president Mary Robinson said the government funding falls “well short” of the losses already experienced across the agriculture sector.

“We had hoped certainly to see something much more significant,” she said.

“If your house was burning down [and] I offered you a bucket of water to put it out, you would probably have an issue.”

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