COVID-19 PPE supplies challenge farms

A recent Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) survey showed some farmers and farm businesses are struggling to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet COVID-19 safety protocols. 

The OFA’s small-scale Agricultural Personal Protective Equipment Survey (APPES) of 498 members showed 16 per cent of respondents were concerned a lack of PPE would see them closing their farm businesses, and 21 per cent expect shortages within the next three months. 

Why it matters: Without PPE for workers and adequate physical modifications to on-farm businesses and equipment, there could be delays in food production and harvesting. 

The survey revealed the top-three PPE shortages for farmers were N95 masks, dust masks and sterile gloves, all of which are mandatory supplies needed to operate an agri-food business. 

More than half of the survey participants said they don’t have an extended PPE supply on hand, and only 12 per cent feel they have enough to last six months or more.  

Gordon Stock, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) senior policy advisor and government relations, said members haven’t voiced any specific concerns around access to PPE, yet. 

“We’re keeping our ears to the ground for those issues,” he said. “Shortages could have an impact all the way through the system, whether it be a public-facing farm with farm gate sales, agri-tourism or one focused on producing goods for sale at a grocery store.”

Stock said they have no specific data around how much growers are investing in COVID-19-related PPE, distancing and housing protocols, however, the $10 million extension to the Enhanced Agrifood Workplace Protection Program (EAWPP) announced during the provincial budget will help offset some costs to ensure farms can continue to produce food for Canadians.

“Whether you’re trying to protect the workers or the public, your consumers or both, without adequate tools to protect those individuals, that all has an impact on your ability to safely run the business,” said Stock.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) keep farmers up-to-date with pandemic protocols and programs available through their COVID-19 Online resource hub and online Workplace PPE Supplier Directory where business owners can search for specific PPE for employees. 

The survey showed 67 per cent of the participants were unaware of the resources or funding programs available to them, highlighting the challenge extends past accessing PPE into outreach to ensure producers are tapping into these tools. 

OFA director Steve Brackenridge said farmers struggled to get ever-changing pandemic protocols in place early in 2020, but most become innovative in creating industry-specific solutions. 

“Agriculture is one of those industries which seems to face a crisis all the time,” said Brackenridge. “The people that still farm today are good at managing crisis and figuring out the workarounds and what needs to be done to carry on.”