Agriculture critical during and post-epidemic, Ag Minister says

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen held a call-in town hall meeting Monday night

Alberta’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen says Albertan food security and the supply chain are strong despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a call-in town hall meeting Monday night, Dreeshen said the Alberta Government is taking “critical steps” to ensure the continued strength of the food supply in Alberta.

“We are in a good place, and we have plenty of inventory stored up. There is no need to panic buy or horde,” Dreeshen said.

Some stores have had temporary shortages of certain items, this does not mean food supplies are running low.

The provincial government is working with industry partners to monitor the situation closely.

The agriculture sector was deemed an essential service by the Alberta Government, this includes all the businesses within the sector.

“When we said agriculture was an essential service to Albertans during the pandemic, we looked at all the businesses that were connected to that sector and said they were essential,” Dreeshen said.

With the crash of the energy sector and oil prices at the lowest ever experienced, Premier Jason Kenney told Albertan farmers they will play a critical role in Alberta’s recovery post-epidemic.

“The agriculture and forestry industry will be critical for Alberta moving forward. We will be turning to agriculture to carry some weight post-epidemic,” Kenney said during the town hall meeting.

To help the agriculture industry thrive during the COVID-19 epidemic, and after the provincial government is working on a few programs and initiatives.

One such initiative is to work with the federal government to make sure the Canada-U.S. border remains open to essential travel, such as deliveries and exporting Alberta farmers products.

“The U.S. remains our biggest exporter, so it is imperative we keep the border open for trade,” Dreeshen said.

Many farmers in Alberta also deal in direct selling, through avenues such as farmer’s markets.

The provincial government declared farmer’s markets could remain open as an essential business.

Dreeshen cautioned personal distance is still essential while shopping at a farmer’s market.

“I selfishly think that the best food around comes from farmer’s markets,” Dreeshen said.

Dreeshen also said a skill matching work program is in the work s to help Alberta’s farmers during the busy upcoming seasons.

The program will help currently out-of-work Albertans gain employment in the agriculture industry.

Both Kenney and Dreeshen encouraged farmers to hire locally before hiring temporary foreign workers, who may be delayed due to the epidemic.

“I’m going to be blunt, we are facing an unemployment rate higher than what was seen during the Great Depression. There are many Albertans who are out of work and would be happy to work on a farm for a pay cheque,” Kenney said.

The provincial government is also looking to the future for “shovel-ready” jobs to stimulate the economy post-epidemic.

However, Dreeshen says the focus right now is on making it through the COVID-19 outbreak.

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