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Agriculture wants essential service status

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CALGARY—Canada's agriculture sector is warning of higher prices and potential food shortages if it isn't designated an essential service and allowed to do business as usual during the COVID-19 crisis.

Ontario has listed both Agriculture and supply chain industries as essential, allowing food production and distribution to continue to function as normal.

“We're in unknown territory. We have concerns about potential problems," said Todd Hames, president of the Alberta Wheat Commission. "That's why we need to have governments recognize that farming is an essential service supplying food for the world.”

Hames, who has a grain farm near Marwayne in east-central Alberta, said railways, the Port of Vancouver and companies that supply fuel and farm implements also need to remain open with spring seeding only weeks away.

It's especially important since there have been delays in getting grain to market due to strikes and rail blockades, he said.

“Just when prices were starting to see our seasonal rallies in the spring, coronavirus hit. It's just all gone to hell in a handbasket," Hames said. "Who knows what we're in for this year?”

Canada's cattle industry saw a sharp drop in prices when the coronavirus pandemic was declared, although they have stabilized in recent days.

In 2018, Canada exported $3.7 billion in beef and live animals to 56 countries, but three-quarters was shipped to the United States. The Canadian Cattlemen's Association wants to make sure that market isn't affected.

But first and foremost, said executive vice-president Dennis Laycraft, there must be recognition of efforts to keep an adequate supply of food available.

Laycraft said the industry has been working with Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure meat-packing plants remain open.

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