By Peggy Brekveld, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
We’re all living in a new reality as the changes and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to play out. Last week, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) checked in with our members to find out how they expect this pandemic will impact their farm businesses. Already, 74% of members surveyed online indicated they are anticipating change in their operations due to COVID-19.
Farmers are known for their resilience and perseverance. But even before COVID-19 hit, farmers were coping with a tough year, with multiple rail disruptions, a shortage of meat processing capacity and uncertain global trade and market access.
OFA members are now bracing themselves for continued uncertainty – 78% expect lost revenue as a result of value chain disruptions, 73% are anxious about their inability to conduct business as usual and 69% expect reduced cash flow. “It is difficult to invest in your business today to ensure you have a good harvest in the fall when you are lacking cash flow/sales now, and potentially weakened demand in the fall," stated a survey participant.
When asked about their top concerns on how COVID-19 will impact their farm businesses, financial impact, decrease in consumer spending and a potential global recession were the top three. At 53%, cash flow was listed as the most immediate financial need to maintain farm business operations, followed by 37% who expect they will need a temporary pause or rescheduling of loan repayments and 25% who will be seeking information on crisis budget planning.
Labour issues have already impacted some Ontario farmers with disruptions to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. OFA’s survey revealed that 52% of respondents that use the program said that potential delays or cancellations to the program would negatively impact their operations. One member wrote, “If we do not have access to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), our farm will have a very difficult time surviving this emergency. The whole Canadian agricultural industry, especially horticulture, will have extreme difficulty.”
Business interruptions are already being felt on Ontario farms, as many members who responded to the survey noted inputs and on-farm services, like feed and agronomy consultations are being disrupted. One farmer commented, “We are concerned when field work begins, will we be able to access seed, fertilizer, fuel and equipment dealerships in case of machinery repairs?”
Farmers are also experiencing problems getting their products to market, with one third of survey participants reporting an interruption in delivering finished products. More than half expect these disruptions to continue, with many farmers unsure about what the future holds.
These challenges are compounded with poor quality internet and telecommunications in rural Ontario. More than three-quarters of farmers responding said they cannot operate business as usual during COVID-19 due to poor rural internet and telecommunications quality. Survey respondents also noted the high cost of rural internet, including overage charges or lack of internet providers, that restricts their ability to work and conduct business.
You, our members are speaking up, through this survey and the many calls, emails and text that we have received. OFA is listening, and our work on your behalf continues, even in this crisis.
Since this survey came out, OFA has worked hard to ensure that the entire food value chain was included in the list of businesses essential to Ontario. There have been steps forward in our ongoing efforts to bring SAWP workers to our farms in a safe and appropriate way. Resources, including contact links to government programs and even mental health assistance, are on our website. Even in this time of social distancing, you are not alone.
Thanks to the more than 350 survey participants who shared their concerns and farm business situations. We will continue to evaluate the responses and share them with industry and government, as decisions impacting our farm businesses are made throughout this pandemic situation. OFA will use this survey as a benchmark with a plan to launch a second survey in coming weeks. We welcome all members to provide their input and feedback on the next COVID-19 survey.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is also conducting weekly surveys for farmers across the country to identify issues and impacts on farm businesses caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
OFA is actively listening to our member concerns to gain a better understanding of the issues being dealt with on-farm. OFA is advocating for the agri-food sector to mitigate the negative affects this pandemic is having on Ontario farm families and their businesses.
For more information, contact:
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
During the current COVID-19 outbreak, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is acutely aware of the level of uncertainty for farmers who have already weathered a stressful 2019 season. We want you to know that we are here for you, we understand, and that we are working hard for you.
From recent government announcements, we know that travel for trade or commerce including trucking will not be affected. Supply chains are considered essential to the health of the economy and cross-border trade and will be protected.
Of particular concern right now is the uncertainty among farmers who are expecting the arrival of essential seasonal agricultural workers. We understand this is incredibly stressful and want to offer assurance that the OFA, agri-food organizations and our federal and provincial leaders are committed to finding a workable solution to the issue.
With spring upon us, we know for many of you there are significant unknowns but rest assured that OFA is working on your behalf to ensure that the business of farming can continue as efficiently and effectively as possible. All OFA staff are now working from home offices following the implementation of a mandatory work from home strategy, and employees will be available during regular business hours (8:30 – 4:30) to serve members at 1-800-668-3276. Contact information for local Member Services Representatives can be found at https://ofa.on.ca/about-ofa/msr/.
Ontario’s current health environment is changing rapidly and has forced our industry to be fluid and flexible. As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, we will monitor its progress closely and provide updates when necessary. These are unprecedented times around the world. We recognize that the uncertainty can be unsettling. We encourage people to be respectful of social distancing, and thankfully we have technology to help us stay connected. Please take the time to reach out to your friends, family and neighbours, especially those who may be particularly isolated or vulnerable.
To help our OFA community stay connected with up-to-date information and resources, we have put together the following information:
Where can I find mental health resources?
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
If you or anyone close to you requires support at this time, please check the resources available on the OFA website at: https://ofa.on.ca/issues/mental-health.
Additional mental health resources
*updated as of Thursday, March 19
CMHA mental health for workers during COVID-19 measures: https://cmha.ca/news/6-tips-to-respond-to-employee-anxiety-about-covid-19.
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs resources: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/about/mental-health.htm
Mental health in the workplace: http://thinkmentalhealth.ca/
If your farm business and employees are feeling anxious or concerned about the COVID-19 situation, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) developed a resource specifically for Canadian employers recommending 6 tips for responding to employee anxiety: https://cmha.ca/news/6-tips-to-respond-to-employee-anxiety-about-covid-19.
Due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is joining the many businesses, government offices and institutions that are standing united in a global shared battle against COVID-19 by implementing a mandatory work from home strategy for all employees.
OFA is taking the necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of our employees, directors, families and members is a top priority. Effective today, OFA’s head office in Guelph, Ontario will be closed until further notice.
However, OFA business operations will not be interrupted. OFA will maintain regular business hours (8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) during the closure and will continue to serve our 38,000 farm family members across the province. We are working across the organization to ensure all employees are well-equipped for working from home in order to continue to provide a high-level of service and support to our membership. We intend to make a seamless transition to a work-from-home solution and do not expect to experience any service interruptions related to member requests, issues or inquiries.
By implementing this strategy, we hope to be able to do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19, reduce the risk of exposure and adhere to recommendations provided by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. International experience demonstrates that social distancing is the only effective method to control the spread of the virus, and it is in the best interests of our employees, our families and our communities.
Ontario’s current health environment is changing rapidly and it has forced the organization to be fluid and flexible. As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, we will monitor its progress closely and will provide further updates when necessary.
In addition, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) president Mary Robinson released an official statement on Monday, March 16 updating the agriculture and food industry on actions CFA is taking to help minimize the impact on farmers of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the full release here: https://www.cfa-fca.ca/2020/03/16/message-from-cfa-president-covid-19/.
For more information about managing COVID-19 in the agriculture industry, the risk to the work environment and employee health and safety, read the special briefing provided by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council (CAHRC). It is available at: https://mailchi.mp/2b324298ddf5/emerging-labour-issues-special-update-for-cahrc-partners-fall-5175869?e=7413fc0574.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding OFA business and operations, please contact us at 1-800-668-3276. Thank you to all of our OFA members for your patience, support and understanding during this challenging time.