In an Executive Director report, Terence Hochstein of the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA) says: “As I write this article for May 1st, Canada is now 107 days from the first reported case of COVID-19. Never in the history of mankind has the entire world come to a screeching halt; the world economy is completely upside down. There are millions of opinions out there as to the seriousness of this pandemic and the forever lasting effects of what our lives will look like in the future.“
In his report, published in the PGA newsletter Potato Minute, Hochstein went on to note that as the days go by, the Canadian political leaders continue to say that the Canadian food supply chain is safe, we will not run out of food. In reality, the vulnerability of this supply chain is being tested to its limits. It is true that Canada is one of only a handful of countries that has a ‘net export’ of food and agricultural products, but the other side of the story, the side that is now being exposed, is that we are still highly dependent on one critical component of the supply chain…. people.
According to Hochstein, Canada has some of the most modern, up to date, processing facilities in the world. “Our meat processing plants, protein plants, crush plants, and frozen processing plants are world class, but they all require people to operate them. Many of these plants are in close quarters, with people working side by side. When one person gets sick it affects everyone in the facility.”
When these plants are shut down or operate at partial capacity, the food supply chain becomes affected, Hochstein says. When the grocery stores run low on food, the prices are artificially inflated because there is this perceived ‘shortage’ of food, and the consumer has to pay more. Once again, the producer is vilified as gouging the public, all the while being unable to sell their raw products.
In the potato industry, there is approximately 1.5-1.6 billion lbs. of freezer capacity spread across North America, with most of them being full and sales in some areas having dropped by over 80%, Hochstein says. The fresh industry has had some growth, but pricing has taken a dramatic hit the last month or two, forcing earnings below the cost of production for these growers.
As the 2020 cropping season unfolds across the country, Hochstein urged the industry to remember one thing – the Canadian farmer and their
families are doing their part; with the rest of the supply chain out of their hands. In many ways the system is broken and it is not due to the primary producer.
Read the full report in The Potato Minute newsletter here.
Terence Hochstein can be reached at 403.382.8382.