The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting farmers in Québec like they are in other regions of Canada.
John McCart of Grenville-sur-la Rouge is President of the Québec Farmers Association (QFA) which represents the anglophone farmers across Québec and is also a member of the General Council of Specialties of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), Québec’s largest farm organization.
McCart said the biggest impact has been the shortage of foreign workers who usually come to Québec each year to work in various agricultural sectors. He said that many of those workers are skilled at what they do, and it is a challenge to find local people who want to do the same tasks and can be properly trained for the job.
According to McCart, Guatemala closed its borders and would not let farm workers heading to Canada leave the country. Mexican workers have also had difficulty obtaining visas.
The Québec government is trying to fill the shortage of farm labour by offering subsidies of $100 per worker, per week for 25 hours of work. McCart said it is difficult to find people who want to do the physical labour that farm workers often have to do and he has heard of farmers who are skeptical that the government’s incentive program will fill the need for help.
Supply chain disruption has been another issue due to disruptions in various processing and supply industries. McCart said that it shows the weakness of an economy that was too reliant on “just-in-time” delivery of goods, and how agriculture was too reliant on demand from the restaurant industry which has sharply declined as a result of dining rooms because closed as a public health measure.
“Disruptions in supply have a lot of farmers worried,” said McCart.
He said that there has been a 15 per cent reduction in demand for eggs in Québec due to the lack of restaurant and hotel orders.
Beef, pork, and poultry producers in Québec have had difficulty with getting their livestock shipped to slaughterhouses because of not only declines in demand, but also because some processing facilities have been temporarily closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks among their employees. McCart said it is expensive for farmers to keep feeding animals that cannot be shipped.
“What do you do with a barn full of pigs?” he commented.
McCart said that smaller slaughterhouses and individual farmers are having to adapt to online sales and the use of social media to promote and sell their products.