If there is one thing that has remained constant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that farmers are experts at adapting to evolving situations and persevering through uncertainty. The resiliency of Ontario farmers to move forward and conduct business in a crisis environment was exemplified in the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s (OFA) latest survey results.
As part of our continued efforts to monitor and gauge the impact of this public health crisis on Ontario farm families and the agri-food sector, OFA has conducted a trio of surveys, beginning with a benchmarking assessment in March followed by a phase two study in April. Earlier this month, OFA launched its phase three survey resulting in 620 member responses.
Despite the endless list of challenges and disruptions caused by COVID-19, farmers have been adapting their businesses to survive in a new reality. The latest results revealed that farmers have progressed past anticipating changes to their businesses and finances and are now experiencing these effects firsthand. The survey showed that 80% of members have experienced a change in their operations. The financial impact continues to rank as the top concern for members with 88% indicating that their farm businesses have suffered negative financial impacts. Other top concerns included a reduction in consumer spending, the potential of a global recession, trade issues and supply chain disruptions.
Farm businesses are working tirelessly to manage their operations through financial losses. The survey shows that 61% have experienced lost revenue and consumer spending, 57% are facing reduced cashflow and unable to conduct business as usual, 30% do not have the ability to expand their operations and 16% are facing financial struggles that will prevent them from paying their bills.
In terms of farm operations having the ability to return to business as usual if the pandemic were to end today, 62% of members reported that it would take more than three months, which has significantly increased when compared to 41% in April and 22% in March.
Two-thirds of farmers indicated they were experiencing more stress and concern about their mental health due to COVID-19; 36% indicated that they’ve reached out to family and friends, 33% have taken short breaks and 7% have taken steps to seek professional help.
The food supply chain has dealt with its share of disruptions through these unpredictable and uncertain times, including surplus products, reduced markets, meat processing plant closures and loss of contracts. In the survey, many members expressed concerns over shipping livestock to processing facilities, followed by the shipment of finished products and grain. Members also indicated significant impacts on the equine industry, maple syrup and honey sales, mushroom sales, loss of farmers’ market access and on-farm sales.
The survey data shows that two-thirds of farmers utilize websites for finding information, while 63% find information through media channels such as TV, radio and podcasts and 30% connect with staff and specialists to get the latest updates.
The phase three results also revealed that 42% of members designated the OFA website as the most helpful resource for farm businesses to cope with COVID-19. This was followed by government websites, service providers such as crop advisors and veterinarians, and commodity organization sites.
Survey results have helped us to better understand the issues and guide our responses through this crisis.
We thank you for continuing to produce food for our province and the world.
Peggy Brekveld is vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture