Canada needs to become more secure by becoming more self-sufficient. In a new series — Strong & Free: Shockproofing Canada — the Post examines how a country made wealthy by globalization and trade can also protect itself against pandemics and other unknown future shocks to ensure some of our immense resources and economic power are reserved for our own security.
The very notion of food security has become so inextricably tied to a globalized agricultural network that now, during a pandemic that has exposed just how busy and necessary our border crossings are, there is general uncertainty and unease about Canada’s ability to be self-sustaining.
Is that a systemic weakness or is what we’re experiencing today as a result of COVID-19 too anomalous to make such an assertion?
Livestock producers requiring affordable meal to feed their animals are having a hard time getting it from their usual U.S. suppliers. The borders have remained open to essential services, and such a product would be considered that, but truckers are in short supply and many of the suppliers themselves are not operating at full capacity. Grain elevators are not always an option, either. They are not generally setup to sell product to one specific farmer.
Many farms in British Columbia and Ontario and elsewhere in Canada are set up to be dependent on temporary foreign workers. According to a Financial Post article published last week, the 14-day isolation measures surrounding COVID-19 have affected the ready-to-work dates of at least some of the 60,000 temporary foreign workers on which Canadian farms rely.
Agriculture has become a market that rewards and services high-volume and international orders. A bulk vessel may travel overseas to a Canadian port and the customer may be a Canadian company, but that doesn’t mean all of that product is destined to stay in the country. The marketplace hasn’t needed to properly distinguish domestic food security from, say, North American or Pan American food security. That will likely change.
This is a natural consequence of the relatively complacent attitude we have had towards the free-flow of goods across borders and oceans. We’re used to talking about tariffs and other market barriers, such as politics and other issues the World Trade Organization was formed to help resolve, but that used to be as complicated as the issues could conceivably become.
Agriculture is set up to service the globe, not local communities or individual countries. Its current makeup is incongruous to the measures needed to curb a pandemic.
Canadians should rest assured that, despite COVID-19 and all the concerns therein, farmers are determined to plant a crop. I am, and I have had a profound amount of time to think about what to plant and how to plant it. Isolation has its perks.
In my life, so far, I have not had to endure such a comprehensive dismantling of everyday life and confront my own mind for such a protracted period of time. We can all relate, I imagine.
I was asked by a podcast host a few weeks ago if I thought there’d be an increase in farmers growing vegetables and other non-commodity plants because of this pandemic. I predicted no. I don’t know if that’s true, though. Take the 15-acre field in front my house. If I decided to grow vegetables on it, how would I do that? It’s the direction my thoughts bend these days.
If our small farm was a larger organization, it would be an optimal time for the board of directors to convene and question the things it previously assumed to be the foundations from which it would continually build.
Planning the growing season on our farm used to be about making the best decision from a list of three or four crops. The pandemic hasn’t forced this process to change — not yet — but it certainly has laid the foundation to think about farming, food systems and food security differently.
This spring, I will be planting black beans, canola and wheat. I hope to be on the field soon.