In phase two of an online survey with our membership, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) gathered valuable input on the current state of issues and concerns of farm businesses and the agri-food sector in Ontario. The survey, which was launched as a follow up to our March 2020 benchmarking survey, was conducted in an effort how members are coping, what their concerns are and how they are managing their farm business situations throughout these challenging times.
More than 700 members responded to the April 2020 phase two survey, up from nearly 360 participants in the initial assessment. While some responses were optimistic about the resilience of the agri-food industry, our business leaders and our workforce, many shared serious concerns.
The financial impact the pandemic will have on farm businesses topped the list of concerns, followed by personal and staff health and safety, and trade or supply chain issues. The survey also revealed 95 per cent of farmers believe COVID-19 will have a negative financial impact on their farm businesses. Nearly two-thirds of respondents are already experiencing lost revenue, and one in four believe it would take more than six months for farms to return to business as usual if the pandemic were to end today.
As farm financial concerns rise, many farmers are already seeking financial support to help them get through. The survey showed that 66% of respondents believe direct government payments would be most effective to help farms navigate these uncharted waters. Enhancements to the Business Risk Management Program and modified production insurance programs were also suggestions farmers made that could help them through pending financial challenges.
The COVID-19 outbreak has created an environment full of uncertainty and instability for our province, but through it all Ontario farmers have been working hard to maintain production of the agri-food supply chain.
“As farmers, we must do our part to keep the food chain strong and reach everyone,” stated one respondent.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are reaching everyone in one way or another. Ontario is home to the most diverse agri-food sector in Canada and we expect every farm is impacted in some capacity. The list of problems and stressors caused by COVID-19 is extensive. From the interruption of goods and services being delivered or shipped from the farm, market unpredictability and loss of agri-tourism business to processing plant closures, cancelled contracts with processors, struggles in the equine industry, loss of access to farmers’ markets and challenges to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program – every farm in Ontario is dealing with their own situation.
OFA will continue to monitor and measure the effects of COVID-19 on the agri-food sector, listening to our members, and relaying the information to help farm businesses cope during these difficult times. These surveys are just one way we are engaging with our members to evaluate the impact of this health crisis to help push for government support and recognition of the challenges farmers are facing.
OFA understands everyone is experiencing levels of frustration and anxiety over these unprecedented conditions. Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete our survey and shared their concerns. As farmers do, we will persevere and get through this together.
Keith Currie is president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture