Isolation an 'advantage' as Sask. ag industry stays strong amid COVID-19 pandemic
SASKATOON -- Several businesses across the province have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with service and hospitality industries taking the brunt of it, but agriculture in Saskatchewan has generally remained strong.
Lee Moats owns a pulse farm in southern Saskatchewan and says there have been “relatively low levels of affect” on his business, which can be done without having to meet with a lot of people.
“A lot of the time we think about the isolation as a disadvantage, but it certainly was an advantage in this situation,” he said.
Moats was concerned about input supply when the pandemic began and took steps towards getting seed and fertilizer in place, while concerns about interruptions in transportation and handling of his crops didn’t materialize.
“In fact, I would say, to some degree in the movement side it was positive,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture David Marit. “We saw the real movement of grain commodities hit records through May, June, and July.”
“It's nice to see that you know really for the most part of the ag side, we didn't see any drastic numbers on the COVID side,” he said, adding that the livestock industry did take a hit from the pandemic.
University of Saskatchewan economist Joel Bruneau believes the agriculture industry could help position Saskatchewan for a return to normalcy.
“Most of the job losses were in that services sector, of which, a big portion of that was food and accommodation, and year on year there's been almost no impact on agricultural employment,” he said. “You can think of this as sort of like a cushion underneath where the shock took place.”
“There are sectors in Saskatchewan that were not directly affected by COVID, which meant that the downturn was mitigated. We have less distance to cover than some of the other provinces.”
While the agriculture industry hasn’t seen job losses like other sectors in the province, Bruneau says “it’s just not big enough to make those other job losses essentially disappear.”
“Direct employment in agriculture is about seven per cent of total employment,” he said. “It's probably not the case that the agricultural sector is going to create new employment to absorb all the people that have lost their jobs, particularly the major job losses in the food and accommodation sector.”
So it might not save Saskatchewan’s economy, but the agriculture industry has helped to soften the blow of the pandemic.
“There is a demand for food, and as we’re finding in the case of lentils and pulse crops,” said Moats. “There’s parts of the world that have a demand for food that’s increased as a result of the pandemic.
“Maybe this is one time when agriculture, sometimes we feel a little disaffected, but maybe we’re going to be appreciated a little bit more.”