In Canada, agriculture is one of the many sectors that have been hard hit by the pandemic. Despite concerns about food security and pleas to buy local, orchardists and farmers have had a number of serious struggles over the past year.
British Columbia apple growers have had to deal with huge production from just across the border in Washington State for decades. They have responded over the years with innovative practices that dramatically boosted production and value per acre. But lately, it has been harder and harder to make a living in apples.
While consumers pay about $2 a pound for apples in grocery stores, local producers often get only about 12 cents a pound — and it costs more than 30 cents a pound to produce apples. The difference goes to big distributors and big box retail stores such as Walmart and Loblaw that control prices across the continent.
To add insult to injury, last year many of the big chains charged new fees to suppliers to help the stores expand even more. And the growers are forced to pay — they are selling a perishable product and really have no choice but to accept the price they are offered.
As if it wasn’t difficult enough competing with U.S. producers, last year, United States growers were given a seven-cents- per-pound subsidy from their government as a support in times of COVID. Suddenly, Canadian producers were even farther behind.
The big impact of COVID on local fruit growers and grape growers has been the drastic reduction in the number of workers from Mexico and the Caribbean. These skilled workers, essential for pruning the trees and vines and harvesting the crops, had to deal with a lack of available flights and stiff quarantine restrictions to enter Canada.
This year promises to be even more difficult, with added requirements for COVID tests, expensive quarantine arrangements and more cancelled flights.
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