The Department of Agriculture and Land launched 17 initiatives with a price tag of just over $17 million during the first 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report published on the department's website offers what it calls a "performance update" on several of the projects, including one of the most controversial-- a $4.7 million contingency fund administered by the PEI Potato Board to help Cavendish Farms ship and store processing potatoes it could not sell at the beginning of the pandemic due to depressed markets.
The report revealed $1,146,897 of the allotment was actually spent, explaining "At the time of this intervention’s design, it was anticipated that there would be a surplus of 100,000,000 pounds of PEI contracted potatoes from the 2019 growing season. Because of unanticipated market fluctuations, only 44,500,000 pounds of contracted potatoes were claimed through this intervention."
The report goes on to say that by last May, 39% of PEI potato producers had completed delivering their contracted potatoes to Cavendish Farms for the 2019 growing season and 61% of producers had outstanding contracts for the 2019 growing season. As of last September, all PEI potato producers with contracts with Cavendish Farms for the 2019 growing season had completed delivering their contracted potatoes.
As well, the department allocated $5,600,000 in additional funding for the AgriStability program for the 2020 and 2021 program years. So far, $57, 237 has been spent. The changes involved removing the reference margin, meaning payments are now based on the producer’s full reference margin for the provincial portion of the payment.
The provincial portion of the coverage level for producers has been increased from 70 per cent to 85 per cent. This reduces the loss a producer must incur to trigger the AgriStability Program from 30 per cent to 15 per cent (for the provincial portion). The change had been asked for within the industry even before the pandemic. There are currently 450 producers enrolled in the AgriStability Program and, as of April, 18 producers had submitted claims under the revamped program.
The AgriInsurance Program has also been modified with a budget of $3,200,000 for the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 fiscal years. When the report was compiled, $1,336,402 had been spent. The money was used to help reduce the producer's share of the premiums for the 672 producers enrolled in the program.
The $1,189,000 budget for Seed Potato Recovery Program has been used up ($1,189,895 as of March 31). There were 38 applications to the program and approximately 361,873 cwt has been claimed through the program and approved applicants were provided $3.30 per cwt in financial support.
An emergency on-farm support fund designed to support enhanced on-farm mitigation
activities to improve the health and safety of all farm workers (domestic and temporary foreign workers), by limiting the spread of COVID-19 in agricultural operations, had a budget of $945,000 and $505,372 had been spent when the report was prepared.
There were 42 applications received for the EOFSF (five applications from individuals who self-identified as women, and two from individuals who self-identified as visible minorities). The fund breaks down into $313,062 in approved funding for workplace adjustments, $102,775 in approved funding for on-farm housing enhancements, $60,978 in approved funding for off-farm housing enhancements, $15,344 in approved funding for disposable PPE, $8,233 in approved funding for transportation and $4,980 in approved funding for non-disposable PPE.
The Strategic Fund for Agriculture Project was cost-shared with Ottawa with a budget of $750,000. There were 24 applications approved (eleven applications from processors, eight applications from producer organizations, three from other industry organizations, one from a retailer/wholesaler/input supplier and one application from provincial government). There has been $517,918 in approved funding for projects and $357,398 in funding advances provided to approved applicants. The program was designed to "enhance continued competitiveness, productivity and profitability of PEI’s agriculture industry by providing support for industry-identified measures to adapt to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic."
There were also two programs geared specifically to the pork sector. The Hog AgriRecovery Initiative had a budget of $500,000 cost-shared by both levels of government, with $428,431 actually spent. Through this initiative, 11 hog producers were provided assistance of up to 90 per cent of the costs incurred to feed approximately 42,350 market-ready hogs held back from processing, and to manage 200 surplus hogs whose welfare was at risk from March 15, 2020 to March 12 of this year.
The provincially funded Hog Industry Welfare project had a budget of $200,000 and $186,887 had been spent when the report was prepared. Funding was provided through this project for costs associated with processing 1,369 market hogs. Additionally, the department provided funding for the retrofitting of a processing facility in New Brunswick48 to prepare for emergencies that may result from disruptions to the PEI supply chain as a result of COVID-19.
Under the Island Producers Helping Islanders program, 850 food hampers were given out by industry at various locations across the province. The cost of the program was $73,722. There was also $40,000 allocated in additional funding for food banks across the Island.
The Agri-Food Growth program has seen $23,644 of its $35,000 budget spent to build and enhance local markets to increase the awareness, sale and consumption of PEI produced agri-food. There have been seventeen projects approved for funding under the Farm Market Compliance Stream, two for farmers markets and 15 for primary agriculture producers.
During the first 12 months of COVID, the department also spent $16,749 to help with the costs associated with organizing food contributions, storage and delivery of Island food products to support the PEI School Food Project. As well, organizers of the PEI Easter Beef Show and Sale were allocated $20,500 to stage a virtual version of the show this spring.
The department budgeted $18,000 for the creation of a working group of 13 industry leaders to help the industry recovered following COVID, as well as $17,500 to the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity for public trust research.
An agriculture labour support initiative with a budget of $15,000 saw $3,225 spent in the joint initiative with WorkPEI to develop a portal for both job seekers and agricultural employers. The Farmer Assistance Program used its $10,000 allocation to provide confidential, professional counselling services to farmers, farm employees and their families. The Department increased its financial support for this Program during the 2020-2021 fiscal year as a measure to support the mental health of producers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between April and December 31, 2020 the Farmer Assistance Program had 123 clients, of that there were 44 new clients.