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Supporting farmers and ensuring our food supply during the COVID-19 pandemic

May 13, during the Legislature sitting, I spoke about the importance of Manitoba's farmers and of their need for support during the COVID-19 pandemic.  My comments, from Hansard are below: 
Mr. Gerrard: During this COVID-19 pandemic, one of the important and essential areas to all of us in Manitoba and in Canada is having access to a good supply of food. In this context, our agricultural producers and our fishers are very important.
      But it has to be noted that, in addition to our primary food producers, individuals and businesses which support those in agriculture or fishing industries are also important.
      We also rely critically on our food processing and distribution businesses, including grocery stores. This whole network of food production and distribution is of critical importance to us today as, indeed, it is every day.
      I want to personally thank all Manitoba producers and all those who contribute to ensuring our food supply chain is intact and working well and that we have safe high-quality food. I say thank you, thank you, thank you.
      Today our food producers are looking from help from our provincial government. And at this time when we have a COVID-19 pandemic....  For agricultural producers there are specific measures which are clearly needed, and as the Keystone agriculture producers are currently asking, the Province should put up its 40 per cent of the AgriRecovery costs so this program is fully available to Manitoba farmers. The federal government's 60  per cent is there. We are waiting for the Province to make its contribution. I call on the Province to contribute.
      Producers want the interim payments for agri-stability coverage increased to 85 per cent. This is a change that's under Manitoba's control. The Province should step forward and make this adjustment. I call on the Province to do so.
      Thirdly, beef producers are asking for the provincial government to help with the premiums that they pay. Beef producers are struggling at the moment because the prices are down–we hope temporarily–because of the closure of quite a number of critical packing plants not only in Canada, but in the United States. The provincial government should step up to help. I call on the provincial government to step up and help in this area.
      Fourthly, potato producers need help with their crop insurance premiums as a result of two years in a row of poor harvests. The Province should step up to help. I call on the Province to help.
      For farmers renting Crown land, the government is dramatically raising the rents on Crown land at a time of the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when farmers and producers can least afford it. The provincial government should postpone these increases to help producers. I call on the provincial government to postpone these increases and help producers.
      The Province is making a 20 per cent cut to the staff of the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation.  These cuts, occurring now, are occur­ring at a critical time because what happened as a result of last fall is that there are some crops which are only just being harvested now, and they need an urgent assessment. We need the full complement of people working at the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation to make sure that these assessments are done well and that farmers are helped promptly at a very critical time.
      The provincial government has promised to set a time frame for further reductions in the education tax on farmland. It should do so.
      There are concerns about access to hog and beef slaughter and packing plants. The plants in Manitoba need extra protection during the COVID-19 pandemic. The provincial government needs to work with the owners and managers at these plants to do what's needed to ensure that there are no COVID-19 outbreaks in these plants. These are measures which are critically important for farmers and the government, instead of waiting, should act.
      Manitoba Liberals support our farmers and our fishers. There is now an urgent need for the government to act, and we are in strong support of the resolution, the MUPI that's being brought forward. We call on the provincial government to act and support urgently farmers and fishers in our province.
      Thank you. Merci. Miigwech.


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