Barring some changes to business interaction behaviours, producers should be able to access production inputs as usual this growing season.
Why it matters: Currently, the supply of fertilizer, chemicals, seed, and other inputs remain unaffected by the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent mitigation efforts.
Agriculture and its supply chain were on the essential list when Ontario non-essential businesses were told to close as of March 25, which should help assure the normal functioning of the supply chain.
Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), says provincial farm representatives are involved in calls with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and other farm leaders three times each week to discuss potential issues and solutions relevant to Canada’s agricultural community.
Currently, no major issues regarding the supply of production inputs have been voiced.
“There was some nervousness around the [rail] blockades, but my understanding is that has been resolved,” says Currie. He adds most input-related business dealings don’t fundamentally require close personal interaction, which itself helps facilitate business-as-usual.
“From what I’m understanding you’re talking about minimum impact in terms of person-to-person contact, so I’m really not hearing any issues there.”
Barry Senft, chief executive officer for Grain Farmers of Ontario, says his organization has also been in regular communication with AAFC, OMAFRA, and Ontario’s other producer organizations to discuss “what if” scenarios. Senft is leaving his job as CEO as of April 1, being replaced by Crosby Devitt.
Thus far, GFO has not been made aware of any input supply issues. However, Senft says they have been receiving reports some retailers are asking farmers to take possession of ordered products sooner rather than later.
He adds the fundamental issue – apart from health concerns – is whether crops will make it in the ground. Complications, such as a weather-delayed season where seed needs to be swapped for shorter-season varieties, could prove challenging.
“Get into position as much of their inputs as they can. Things don’t change daily, they change hourly,” Senft says. “Anything we can do to lessen risk, farmers should think about.”
Greg Hannam, co-owner of Woodrill Farms Ltd., a Guelph-area crop input supply company and grain elevator, also says he and his colleagues have not encountered any supply issues.
“Things are still early, but I have not heard anything in terms of people not getting supplied,” he says.
“We’re building contingency plans… but otherwise it’s just business as usual.”
Wayne Black, sales manager, agronomy, with Sunderland Co-operative, says that farmers should call before they come to their location, to make sure the products they need are there.
“You need to call ahead and book your time. You don’t want to see people standing around in a tiny office expecting service right away.”
Many crop input companies have locked their doors, but continue to provide service to those who call ahead.
He doesn’t expect there to be supply issues for crop inputs. Seed and crop protection products are in the country. The co-op has had calls from some farmers making sure their sprays are going to be available.
“We’re fortunate and privileged to be working outside. We can meet the customer outside the barn, or in their yard or in a field, and stay out of the office or the house. We can still do a lot of things we need to do.”
The fertilizer sector says that it has recovered from challenges from the recent rail blockages and supply should be sufficient to get crops planted across the country.
“Our member companies are implementing COVID-19 contingency plans at manufacturing plants, storage terminals and agri-retail outlets across the country to protect employees and the public and to ensure farmers get the fertilizer they need in time for seeding,” said Garth Whyte, president and CEO of Fertilizer Canada.
Addressing questions from employees
Hannam says the most significant COVID-related impacts have thus far has been confined to day-to-day business procedures. Examples, Hannam says, include truck drivers communicating via PA systems rather than entering buildings during load testing, more intense biosecurity training for staff, and so on.
He adds the general awareness of and familiarity with biosecurity protocols in the farm community lends itself to effectively implementing more stringent measures.
“The bigger thing is really questions from our employees about what happens if we have to shut down… People are worried about maintaining income and managing child care,” Hannam says.
“We’ve probably spent more time talking to people about those things, the day-to-day life things.”
— With files from John Greig