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le Mercredi 13 mai 2020 18:04 | mis à jour le 8 avril 2022 19:18 Reflet-News (Russell-Embrun-Casselman)

Farmers work on adapting to new reality

  photo Gregg Chamberlain
photo Gregg Chamberlain
Farmers in Prescott-Russell are learning to deal with the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s all a new ball game here,” said Réjean Pommainville, a Limoges farmer who is also the director for District 14 (Prescott-Russell and Stormont-Glengarry) for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).

Pommainville serves as the OFA’s voice for produce and livestock farming in the four counties. While he is also busy with his spring planting, he still budgets time to keep up to date with announcements from both the federal and provincial governments on aid programs to support the farm sector during the current pandemic, and also keep in touch with OFA members on how repercussions from the pandemic might be affecting their operations.

Recent reports of some slaughterhouses in Western Canada or Québec having to either shut down or limit their operations because of COVID-19 cases among their workforce raises the spectre of uncertainty for livestock producers in the country. Some have even had to euthanize their cattle. So far, Pommainville has not heard reports of any local farmers raising beef cattle, pigs, or broiler chickens culling their stock. But he noted that for many farmers, their biggest problem is the stress of not knowing how the pandemic will affect their livelihood.

“It’s a complex issue,” he said. “There’s been some adjustments, but there are a lot of unknowns. The stress for farmers is very, very high because of the unknowns.”

He noted that produce farmers, who may depend on migrant labour during both planting and harvest seasons, may need to review their operations. If the foreign migrant labour isn’t available because of federal border restrictions, then some farmers may need to either considering buying or leasing more machinery to plant and harvest their crops, or else consider planting crops which are not as labour-intensive.

Pommainville applauded the federal government’s recent announcement of financial aid programs for farmers, but noted that the agriculture industry will also need help with readapting itself once the pandemic ends. He noted the industry needs to make sure it is flexible should another pandemic or other type of global crisis occur.

“It the agricultural sector is not helped,” Pommainville said, “then there is always a possibility of (food) shortages or that the prices might go up. We’re taking the prime minister at his word when he says that this is only the first step. We want to make sure that the farming community stays healthy too.”