How COVID-19 could affect Canada's food supply

A dwindling workforce could have an impact Canada's food supply this year, says the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Mary Robinson, who also runs a farm in Albany, P.E.I., says farms that rely on temporary foreign workers or workers from other provinces may see a shortage due to travel restrictions from COVID-19.

"We need to figure out how to address that, as the very beginning of the journey that food takes to get to your fork starts on every farm," Robinson told CBC RadioThe Current's Matt Galloway Wednesday.

We are in different times here and we're going to need Canadians to do jobs that traditionally they may not have considered. — Mary Robinson

She said there should still be a "decent amount" of food available, but the variety may be different. 

"If you're a broccoli farmer and you need 50 guys that usually come in on a temporary foreign worker program to be on your farm cutting broccoli and you're not going to have those people, then that's going to impact your ability to grow that crop," she said.

'Going to see the effects'

"When you go to the grocery store throughout this year, you're probably going to see the effects of those changes in the labour marketplace."

P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture

Last week, the federal government exempted temporary foreign workers from its border restrictions, but it's uncertain how many will decide to come. P.E.I. and other provinces have orders in place for anyone who crosses their borders to self-isolate for 14 days.

Agriculture usually employs 2.3 million Canadians, she said, but COVID-19 could reduce that number, so farmers will be looking for help closer to home.

Robinson said any workers who have been laid off from their regular jobs could consider emailing or phoning a local farm to see if they are looking for workers.

"We are in different times here and we're going to need Canadians to do jobs that traditionally they may not have considered," she said. "There's all kinds of opportunity for Canadians to have meaningful work in agriculture." 

Robinson said Canada is fortunate to have a robust agri-food industry, and is heartened by how quickly grocers and suppliers have responded to the change brought about by the coronavirus crisis. 

But she said many farmers are now in a difficult position as they decide how to keep the food supply chain going while caring for their own families and workers.

"We need to make sure we keep these people in mind and do what we can to help them as all of them make these difficult decisions and get us through this next year."

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