Feds reveal details of $35M fund to help make farms safer in COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA — Some Canadian farmers can now apply for emergency funding to protect their workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Monday.

A $35-million program first announced at the end of July will subsidize farms' purchases of personal protective equipment and sanitary stations and it will help to cover extra costs in cases of COVID-19 outbreaks.

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The government will cover 50 per cent of the costs under the program and 60 per cent if a farm is owned by women or youths.

"Our government will continue to support farmers and (food) processors," Bibeau said Monday.

"They are key partners in Canada sustainable economy recovery."

Farmers in Saskatchewan, Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and the Northwest Territories can apply. Bibeau said the government will announce programs that will be managed by the other provinces in the coming weeks.

Wearing N95 masks has been standard at grain farms since before COVID-19, because farmers deal with dust and rodents around some of the bins, said Keith Degenhardt, the vice-president of Alberta Federation of Agriculture. So the pandemic brought a shock.

"We saw the price on personal protection equipment increased," said Degenhardt, who runs a crop and cow-calf farm with his family close to Wainwright, Alta.

The program will be applied retroactively to cover any COVID-19-related costs between March 15 and the end of next February, Bibeau said.

She said the program can apply equally to Canadian or migrant farm workers and it will prioritize farms at the highest risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.

The number of workers and the amount of space they have in their workplaces and housing facilities will be key elements in identifying farms at high risk of COVID-19 outbreaks, Bibeau said.

Last month, the government launched a $77.5-million program to help Canadian food processors respond to the safety needs of their workers.

Lynn Jacobson, the president of Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said it's important to understand that farmers have different operations and are affected differently by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some large farms with temporary foreign workers have faced extra costs for housing and separation of people.

"A lot of the farmers have bunkhouse-style housing because people are there for three months, four months, five months," he said. "It's very very hard to separate people with that type of accommodation."

Jacobson said some farmers had to accommodate one person per room instead of four per room.

"Those types of things are issues, and they cost quite a bit of money," he says.

Bibeau said the new program is built to support temporary foreign workers on farms too.

"We are strengthening the employer-inspections regime and developing improved employer-provided living accommodation requirements for migrant workers," she said. "We care deeply about the well-being of migrant workers."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct 5, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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