Over the past several weeks, we have seen an increase in people stocking up on food as worries arise about possible shortages.
While there have been limited quantities of certain items for short periods, most areas have kept the shelves relatively well-stocked.
We are reminded during this COVID-19 crisis to be thankful for our food producers and the critical supply chains working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure supplies remain on our shelves. Our food supply chain is one of the most important parts of our society, helping to maintain health, peace and order throughout this global disaster.
During this time, we are especially grateful to our producers and the critical systems that keep us fed. It is important that we do all we can to help them continue operating now and into the future.
We are all in this together as neighbors and partners. Without our farmers, ranchers, feeders, harvesters, veterinarians, inspectors, haulers, processors, manufacturers, truckers, loaders, stockers and countless others involved, our complex food production system would break down, causing cascading impacts and shortages.
Our interdependent food system also relies heavily on our cross-border neighbors. For example, the United States sends more than $25 billion worth of fruits, nuts, vegetables, processed foods and food preparations to Canada. In return, Canada supplies the United States with $24 billion in vegetables, baked goods, beef and pork, canola oil and chocolate.
Without this reciprocal relationship, we would not be able to keep our shelves stocked with the food and supplies we need. That is why we must ensure our borders remain open to critical supply chains and services that feed us every day.
While our food producers are still working diligently during this crisis, COVID-19 has had serious financial impacts on the agriculture sector. Closing restaurants and schools severely impacted the normal distribution system and greatly reduced demand for many products.
Milk purchases have significantly dropped over the past few weeks, leaving producers with a much larger supply than processors can handle. Some livestock processing facilities are unable to maintain sufficient staffing to continue operating.
Futures prices have drastically fallen for many commodities. As a result, some fruits and vegetables are not being harvested and instead left in the fields to spoil.
While retail sales of potatoes have increased, the losses in food service cannot be offset. Potato processors are telling growers to find a new home for their 2019 storage crop and are cutting 2020 purchases by up to 50%.
Many farms are also concerned about the availability of seasonal workers and how to ensure communities remain healthy as they provide the needed support for harvesting.
Federal assistance is helping, but we need to be cognizant that many farmers and ranchers were already struggling as a result of tariffs and trade disputes before COVID-19. We must find ways to ensure our food producers can continue operating now and long into the future.
In this time of crisis, we must support much-needed programs to help our entire food distribution network continue to serve as the critical anchor holding us together. Our citizens’ health and well-being depend greatly on it.
Pacific North West Economic Region Agriculture and Livestock Health Working Groups Co-Chairs
Patrick Kole, Idaho Potato Commission
Larry Doke, Member of the Legislative Assembly, Saskatchewan
Janice Tranberg, Alberta Cattle Feeders Association
Dr. Tahnee Szymanski, Montana Department of Livestock
David Moss, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association
Brandon Hardenbrook, Pacific North West Economic Region
The Pacific NorthWest Economic Region is a statutory public/private nonprofit chartered in 1991 by the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Yukon and Northwest Territories. The opinions and thoughts expressed are those of the authors.
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