There are plenty of challenges these days in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, but Stettler County producers continue to move forward.
“Well to begin, grain farmers have been modelling physical distancing for years – so they are naturals, and for the most part we aren’t expecting to see seeding affected by COVID-19. Self-isolation is the par for the course on a farm,” said Ryan Hallett, manager of agricultural services with the County.
“We have observed many local farm families being extra cautious and following physical distancing guidelines on their farms and within their operations, as they know their operations would be severely impacted if COVID-19 were to spread through their family and impact spring seeding – often many generations of the same family working together,” he added.
Hallett noted that harvest could present a different story, as neighbors usually try to help neighbors.
“Hopefully we are at a place where this won’t be affected by the time harvest rolls around. The Alberta Government is encouraging people to have ‘cohort families’ which are friends or neighbors who are committed to only socialize with each other so they can help one another out.
“Realistically again, this is already how many of our farm families operate during harvest, so we are hopeful our grain producers will be able to navigate the harvest with some extra measures of caution in place.”
Meanwhile, grain producers seem to have been relatively unaffected by the impacts of COVID-19 so far, he said.
“The supply chains providing fertilizer, seed, and agricultural products have not been seriously disrupted. This has allowed most of Alberta’s grain farms to prepare for seeding this spring in a timely fashion. Grain markets have remained stable allowing producers to sell last year’s crop with some additional physical distancing measures being taken at grain elevators.”
He added that temporary foreign workers may not be able to travel in time to assist with seeding throughout our province.
“Apiculture (beekeeping), horticulture, and other intensive agricultural operations rely heavily on temporary foreign workers for seasonal labour to produce much of the honey and vegetables available in this province,” said Hallett.
As for cattle producers, they have been more directly affected by Covid-19 than their grain farming counterparts, said Hallett.
“On April 20th, the meat processing plant in High River owned by Cargill, temporarily shut down due to an outbreak of Covid-19 among staff. This plant processes nearly 40 per cent of the cattle in Canada, and is one of only two plants in Western Canada,” he explained.
The immediate effect of this shutdown is that the number of buyers for fed cattle in western Canada has dropped nearly in half, and fed cattle will have to remain on farm and in feedlots until space becomes available at packing plants.
Hallett said that this leads to a domino effect which affects everyone in the cattle markets. There is no firm timeline yet for when packing will resume at a regular pace, but every cattle farmer in Alberta is hoping it will be soon.
“Pork and poultry producers are struggling with the same problems: unknown variables attached to getting their product to packaging.”
Every producer is dealing with uncertainty in the markets, he said.
“This will be the biggest factor for everyone in our agricultural industry for the next year, as nobody currently knows when life will return to some semblance of normalcy. Even simple neighbourly activities such as large group brandings and helping with seeding will be affected this spring as social distancing policies will likely remain in place.
“While the County of Stettler facilities are currently closed to public access, we are open for business and our Agricultural Services department is still available to assist and take calls and questions.”