Secure Your Food has been monitoring resources and outlooks that track vulnerabilities and threats to the food system - as early as February 25, we were urging people on our social media to prepare responsibly for possible disruptions and accessibility to food should the COVID-19 virus spread to Canada. On March 17, Premier Kenney declared a provincial Public Health Emergency and enacted measures designed to slow the spread of the virus. Presently there is enough food within the food chain supply that any short-term effects from the virus on our food system will not be noticed. However, with the spread of COVID-19, we are observing vulnerabilities of our food system becoming magnified.
The effects of the COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc on elements within the food chain and this has the effect of rising prices and shortages regionally. This effect is magnified in urban and virus affected areas which may have the potential to lead to social strife. Looking at areas like China, Italy, and Spain, we have witnessed rioting, hoarding, and starvation because workers in all levels of production, manufacture, distribution, and transport get sick and this results in the inability to operate normally.
Food Chain under stress
With no clear end in sight, the food system is adapting to pandemic conditions. To add context, in previous blog postings we have documented the difficulties our food system has due to extreme weather and Climate Change.
World wide food production in the last couple of years has largely been dependent on weather conditions, and recent trends show a downward trend with some staple crops having the lowest yields in a century. Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that the world’s consumption level has outpaced production (as cited in Fraser, 2020, Building Resilience, para. 5). It is unknown specifically what may occur with COVID-19 in this mix but we are certain that it makes a serious situation worse.
The Canadian Federal Government has designated the food supply chain as critical infrastructure, and in concert the Alberta Provincial government has designated food growing activities as vital and needed. The province declared agricultural activities along with greenhouses, nurseries, and farmer markets as essential services (Bezovie, 2020, para.1). Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has taken to relax import workers restrictions and extend present worker visas to meet the demand for workers employed in agriculture (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2020, “temporary foreign worker”, para.1). Despite efforts to contain the virus, farm workers in West Kelowna had to self isolate and the farm shut down (Pinkerton & Emmanuel, 2020, paras. 1-3). Mirroring last year's conditions, farmers in Central Alberta hoped to do early plantings but weather and COVID-19 will delay planting (Chacon, 2020, paras. 1-2).
Manufacture and Processing
Food manufacturing and processing facilities are facing significant health challenges as conditions meant to keep food safe happen to also allow the virus to remain virulent. In lab testing, cold weather conditions are “conducive” to virus survival (Lab Manager, 2020, para. 7). Also, keep in mind that cold conditions reduce mucus in the respiratory tract, which is protective from virus and cold infections (Friar, 2017, para. 4). Cargill’s meat packing plant, in High River, has laid off 1000 workers due to 38 confirmed cases of COVID-19 illnesses (Rieger, 2020, para. 3). Harmony Beef, a beef processing plant north of Calgary, has closed because of virus afflicted workers (“Confirmed case”, 2020, paras. 1-3). National corporations that process food, largely meat processing, have begun to shut down or reduce their activities as workers become sick (Financial Post, 2020, List).
The border between the U.S. and Canada remains closed to cross country travel but still allows the free flow of goods and materials (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2020, Trade, Question 2). For context, the Just in Time Delivery system employs global supply chains which supplies our marketplace with goods, especially during the off growing season. A large part of produce comes from the United States, especially California, but when supplies are low the supply chain sources food from further south, like Mexico and Central America. COVID-19 has demonstrated that there is not enough resilience within the system, as the efficiency of the supply chain does not allow alternate sources of food and researchers assert that regional sources of food need to be developed (Fraser, 2020, Building Resilience, para. 2).
The COVID-19 virus has long term implications for the industry of transportation. Transport Canada has issued requirements of truck drivers that include social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning of vehicles before and after deliveries to limit the spread of the virus (TruckNews, 2020, para.1). International shipping experienced a downward trend due to the U.S./China trade war and the virus, the demand for goods is slowing and experts forecast a drawdown by June (McClearn, 2020, Shipping, para. 2-3). Many air carriers have begun to limit flights with travel restrictions in place, resulting in less cargo that travels alongside passengers (McClearn, 2020, Air Cargo, para. 1). With plane transport slowing down, train deliveries are set to increase given its ability to move large volumes of goods and foods (McClearn, 2020, para. 3). Railway companies are observing transportation for car and petroleum products decreasing, but materials and goods for food infrastructure are being maintained (McClearn, 2020, Railways, paras. 2-3).
This summary is not exhaustive but a sampling of what is being observed regionally and internationally. Before COVID-19, the food chain was experiencing difficulties due to extreme weather and climate change. The virus has negatively affected all levels of our food system and the system is adapting within the constraints of its ability, however that may not be enough during this difficult time. There are limited redundancies within the system and because of this, vulnerabilities become magnified. The areas where we source our food are out of the country and have health systems not on par with our level. Most countries in the northern and southern hemisphere have not reached their peak with the virus, and as the virus proceeds to spread, it is likely that food prices will continue to increase and shortages become much more likely.
Gardening is one way you can secure a source of food and the time to start is now. Nurseries and greenhouses will have seedlings which you can transplant for the growing season. Secure Your Food will continue to provide resources on our social media and blog postings on how to grow your own food. It is prudent that you grow your own food especially with what we are observing in the world.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) - Information for the agriculture and agri-food industry. Retrieved from https://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-information-for-the-agriculture-and-agri-food-industry/?id=1584732749543
Bezovie, E. (2020, April 15). Greenhouses, nurseries and farmers' markets declared essential during COVID-19. Canadian Television Network. Retrieved from https://www.edmonton.ctvnews.ca/greenhouses-nurseries-and-farmers-markets-declared-essential-during-covid-19-1.4897698
Confirmed case of COVID-19 shuts down beef plant north of Calgary. (2020, March 27). Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/covid-19-harmony-beef-deena-hinshaw-alberta-1.5513408
Financial Post (2020, April 13). Coronavirus closes meat plants in Canada and the United States as world's largest pork producer warns of shortages. Retrieved from https://www.financialpost.com/news/retail-marketing/coronavirus-spread-closes-north-american-meat-plants
Friar, G. (2017, March 17). Mucus Does More Than You Think. Scope. Retrieved from https://www.scopeweb.mit.edu/mucus-does-more-than-you-think-8b12f8f6feae
Fraser, E. (2020, March 16). COVID-19: The perils of a 'just enough, just in time' food system. Arrell Food Institute. Retrieved from https://arrellfoodinstitute.ca/covid-19-food-system/
Lab Manager (2020, March 12). Researchers Predict Potential Spread and Seasonality for COVID-19 Based on Climate Where Virus Appears to Thrive. Retrieved from https://www.labmanager.com/news/researchers-predict-potential-spread-and-seasonality-for-covid-19-based-on-climate-where-virus-appears-to-thrive-21994
McClearn, M. (2020, April 19). Upheaval in supply and demand for goods throws transportation networks into disarray. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-planes-trains-and-ships-sit-idle-as-transport-networks-grind-to-a/
Pinkerton, C. & Emmanuel, R. (2020, April 1). The Sprout: COVID-19 outbreak among foreign workers at West Kelowna farm. IPolitics. Retrieved from https://www.ipolitics.ca/2020/04/01/the-sprout-covid-19-outbreak-among-foreign-workers-at-west-kelowna-farm/
Rieger, S. (2020, April 14). The company says shifts have been reduced but hasn't confirmed the number of layoffs. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/cargill-layoffs-1.5532568
Transport Canada releases Covid-19 guidelines for fleets and drivers. (2020, April 2). TruckNews. Retrieved from https://www.trucknews.com/transportation/transport-canada-releases-covid-19-guidelines-for-fleets-and-drivers/1003139012/
COVID-19 has erupted into the WHO’s former classification of a pandemic. China who serves as the world's source of materials and products has ceased economic and manufacturing activity since the start of the outbreak. Currently, save for culture specific foods, there is no primary effect on foods within our supply chain. This posting represents our opinion and estimation of the the effect that COVID-19 has on our food system, please prepare responsibly.
As the spread of the virus picks up speed in the U.S., SYF expects conditions similar to what has been observed in countries like China, South Korea, and Italy where they have virus clusters and then evolves into an epidemic. These countries have adopted strict quarantine measures to slow the infection rate of COVID-19. When having clusters in an area, there is a run on sanitary, food, and water supplies. In epidemic conditions, food availability becomes strained and uncertain. As the quarantine lengthens, food gets rationed.
The Secure Your Food (SYF) program developed its perspective of the food system based on disaster management. Our hazard analysis of the food system highlighted a major issue that contributed greatly to food insecurity. In Canada, most of our food comes from out of country, food that is needed to maintain or increase health. This presents an extreme vulnerability should there be an interruption in the supply side to the food system.
The areas in which we source our produce (fruits and vegetables) comes from the United States, Mexico, and Central America. Recently, the production and supply side of the food system has resulted in shortages, mainly due to extreme weather. The United States has major infection clusters, one of which is in California. This area produces a large portion of our produce and should quarantine measures be enacted all production and transportation will cease.
The orientation and posture of governments are generally toward business, which means human needs are secondary. Food is a commodity and not a right. This is the context in which we operate, where a large part of our food comes from out of the country. This is where we are most vulnerable, our food insecurity has developed as a result of this context.
As the virus rages across areas we depend on for produce, should a quarantine be declared in those areas it is certain there will be shortages and rationing. This posting is not to sow fear but to inform your actions. Prepare responsibly but also expand your options. Listed below is how you can grow in containers, a method which anyone with living space can do.
Our growing season is beginning and it is only prudent that we start growing our own food. Some may have a garden but in our estimation growing outdoors is a gamble. This past year in my area, the harvest was affected by extreme weather events and cold nights. What thrived was the plants I grew in self watering containers. When weather became extreme or cold, I could bring them inside and as a result, they thrived.
Urban Growers - Container Gardening
Container growing allows you to optimize the conditions in which your plants are growing. When outside conditions are good you can put this plant in the perfect spot. When conditions become less optimal, you can move to a place (inside) until conditions improve. With the self watering feature, you can ensure that the plant will have its needs met while skipping a day or two of watering for you. SYF has no affiliation or partnership with the following links and these links represents what we believe is some of the best information.
West Coast Seeds have great guides, seeds, and resources to draw upon
Gary Pilarchik’s My First Container Gardening (video)
10 of the easiest vegetables you can grow in a container (video)
Self watering Container, this method makes watering easier as you can skip more than a couple of days between watering (video)
https://youtu.be/E8aE9nd8D4s I use this system with great success.
One I will be trying this season Is this other self watering container system
The 2019-20 growing season for crops is likely to meet with challenging conditions that persist from the 2018-19 growing season. Extreme weather in the autumn of 2018 started with early cold and progressed into extreme cold in spring 2019. This extreme cold saw record snow and rain during the planting season which left the growing window being shortened. The shortened 2019 growing period resulted in reduced yields for staple crops but also for vegetables and fruits continent wide.
Extreme weather (hail and storm) combined with cool conditions (10 degree below Growing Degree Days) further reduced the growth and quality of soybeans, corn, and wheat. Cold weather set in during the 2019 harvest period further lowering crop numbers and setting the stage for lowered winter crop production.
2020 will start with the lowest winter and spring planting setting the stage for continued lowered staple crops and produce production. Enter livestock feed issues into that setting it paints a bleak picture that could signal continued price increases and shortages.
Figure 1. African Swine Fever Occurrences over the last five years. National Pork Board, 2020, https://www.porkbusiness.com/article/global-look-african-swine-fever
Pork prices have been on a continual increase because of the worsening shortage of pork in the world. African Swine Fever has decimated 40% of China’s Pork production which also accounts for 1/4% loss of pork production worldwide (Huang, 2020, para.2). Pork supply has been in short supply leading to increased prices in Canada and the U.S.
The shortage of feed has led meat producers to adopt alternative strategies in place of conventional methods. One practice is the feeding expired pastries and dog food in place of domestic feed because of local feed prices and supply shortages (Polansek, 2019, para.1). Another is the sourcing of feed from Venezuela, unprecedented and a first, due to shortages during the 2019 year in the states by Smithfield Porks (Worledge, 2019, para.1).
For these reasons, there is talk of a protein shortage (Gribbin, 2019, Para.1) and with the stage set for another year of lowered production number for feed, meat prices are likely to increase. The popularity of alternative meats has led to the increased use of peas and with the current bean shortage, meats and alternatives are also likely to increase in price this year.
Growing conditions, last year, for staple crops were challenging to be sure but produce farmers and growers have experienced reduced harvests.
Corn is an interesting staple crop, as it is used as feed, fuel, and food and has had a difficult time in our food systems. The current USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) has been criticized as not being reflective of reality, where corn and bean estimates are questioned by industry experts (McGinnis, Trade Thoughts, 2020, para.5).
These are the trends we have witnessed in the past two years, production is declining, storage supply quantities are depleting, and consumption is increasing. Another year like 2019-20 would see significant issues for food security, especially for vulnerable populations.
The trends we have been observing with extreme weather and food production have not shown a stabilization, and it is likely food production will continue to face challenges. This past year we witnessed continual incremental increases in food generally. While this number is a little above the inflation rate, the classes of foods designed to maintain or increase health are the most expensive in year. One other troubling trend is that they are becoming unavailable.
The food system is stressed at all levels and continual price increases are likely for everyone. With those who are on a fixed budget or limited circumstances, it will become more difficult to access affordable quality food. How will they adapt? How will you adapt?
Gettleman, J., Manik, J.A., & Raj, S. (2019, October 1). India Isn"t Letting a Single Onion Leave the Country. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/01/world/asia/india-modi-onion-prices.html
Hartley-Parkinson, R. (2019, December 4). Britain faces carrot shortage after flooding destroys crops. MetroNews. https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/04/britain-faces-carrot-shortage-flooding-destroys-crops-11266019/
Huang, Y. (2020, January 1). Why Did One-Quarter of the World’s Pigs Die in a Year? New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/01/opinion/china-swine-fever.html
McGinnis, M. (2020, Jan.1) Pre-USDA Report Thoughts are Bullish, Analysts say. Successful Farming. https://www.agriculture.com/news/crops/pre-usda-report-thoughts-are-bullish-analysts-say
Pratt, S. (2019, November 7). Dry beans absorb major hit. The Western Producer. https://www.producer.com/2019/11/dry-beans-absorb-major-hit/
Gribbin, C. (2019, December 12). Meat prices rising as swine fever causes global protein shortage. ABC Australia. https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/am/meat-prices-rising-as-swine-fever-causes-global-protein-shortage/11791644
Polansek, T. (2019, August 2). Corn is so expensive that U.S. farmers are feeding their pigs baked goods and pet food. Financial Post. https://business.financialpost.com/commodities/agriculture/u-s-cows-and-pigs-gorge-on-bakery-rolls-pet-food-as-corn-prices-surge
Siegner, C. (2020, January 30). Rain puts a damper on low sugar prices. FoodDive. https://www.fooddive.com/news/rain-puts-a-damper-on-low-sugar-prices/571352/
U.S. Foods (2020). Farmer's Report Market Trends 01.31.2020. https://www.usfoods.com/content/dam/usf/pdf/farmers_report/FarmersReport.pdf
Worledge, T. (2019, May 19). China-owned, US pork producer imports corn as US pork sales to China soar. AgriCensus. https://www.agricensus.com/Article/China-owned-US-pork-producer-imports-corn-as-US-pork-sales-to-China-soar-6796.html
September 27, heavy snow was forecasted to bury a large portion of Alberta and farmers raced to harvest what they could. Previous to this, the growing season has been plagued with a late start, cool temperatures, extreme weather events, and wet conditions which has delayed the progression of plant growth and now the harvest. What remains in the fields after the snow will be affected in quality and may become unfit for human consumption. Conditions like these have been worsening for two years, especially across the globe. This has the potential to see prices rise in all categories outside of fruits and vegetables within the Canada Food Price Index.
Alberta Crop Report
The Alberta Crop Report (ACR) reports that as of Sept.14, harvest across Alberta stands at 17.7%, well under the 5yr avg of 31.3% (Alberta Government, Crop Report as of September 17, 2019, Para 2). Note, the ACR is a report of total crop production which includes most major crops. Beginning in late August, harvesting has been slowed due to cool and wet conditions across the province.
With freezing temperatures and forecasted snow loads across much of the province, what is still in the fields will affect the quality. The September 23 Alberta Crop Report was released last Friday (Sept.23), noting that only 32.6% of crops were harvested provincially and in the southern region almost ¾ harvested (Shooshtarian, 2019, para.2).
This time of harvest signals a couple of indicators. The maturation of crops has resulted in loss of quality due to late start and cool temperatures (Alberta Agriculture, 2019, Para.2). Discussion among agriculture and growing circles comment on the lack of heat during the night throughout the growing season. Though temperatures are warm during the day, temps during the night retard plant growth if they are not above 10 degrees Celsius (Personal Communications, 2019). This can be quantified into this equation which is called Growing Degree Days.
Simply put, there has not been enough heat to sustain plant growth which is predictable when heat is a constant factor during the growing season. As mentioned in previous blog posts, early corn offerings were in doubt because of delayed plantings and cool weather. Wheat has these same concerns in discussions about the progress of the crop. As of September 19, it was estimated that corn need two weeks of good temperatures to fully mature and this has not happened (Glen, 2019, para.4).
In transportation, crops are transported from the fields to manufacturers by trucks and trains. This entails contracts for delivery of crops and in anticipation of the expected numbers estimated at the beginning of September (Cross, 2019, para.3). Transport set aside for crop delivery are not being utilized by the estimated numbers.
In supply, canned products are looking at reduced numbers in the United States. Due to the low numbers in production fruit and vegetables for canning, there is a glut of cans which is a troubling sign (Tita, 2019, paras.1-2).
Mid season produce began to come into the food supply and led to a small decline in the Canada Food Price Index from 4.8% to 4.6% (Statistics Canada, 2019, Table 18-10-0004-03). Reduced corn and wheat production estimates will certainly reverse that number and see it climb higher.
In the Canada Food Price Index, prices for food, specifically fresh fruits and vegetables have been elevated over the last year. Wheat and corn, used in most processed foods, are certain to spike prices across all categories later this year. This bump will soon be evident in the pocketbook and impact those who are on fixed incomes or with limited financial means.
These last two years have seen extreme weather trend negatively impacting food production, leading to a slow boil of food prices. This trend is not specific to our region but planet wide. As our world population increases driving the need for more, it is not unreasonable to think that we are perhaps at the cusp of a food crisis. If climatic change do not stabilize or reverse, it is time to think about adaptations.
Alberta Agriculture (2019, September 20). Harvest restarts in Alberta, late progress seen in all regions. Alberta Farm Express. Retrieved from https://www.albertafarmexpress.ca/2019/09/20/harvest-restarts-in-alberta-late-progress-seen-in-all-regions/
Cross, B. (2019, September 25). Delayed harvest slows grain movement. The Western Producer. Retreived from https://www.producer.com/2019/09/delayed-harvest-slows-grain-movement/
Glen, B. (2019, September 19). Alberta corn crop behind schedule. The Western Producer. Retrieved from https://www.producer.com/2019/09/alberta-corn-crop-behind-schedule/
Shooshtarian, A. (2019, September 20). Alberta Crop Report. Retrieved from the Alberta Government website: https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/af95ff5b-f8cc-4fd9-9bd6-e2642816028e/resource/e29f8c64-18ec-4fbe-8dd3-441987083c13/download/af-crop-report-2019-09-17.pdf
Shooshtarian, A. (2019, September 20). Alberta Crop Report. Retrieved from the Alberta Government website:
Tita, B. (2019, September 9). Poor Vegetables Crop Dents Demand for Tin Cans. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/poor-vegetable-crop-dents-demand-for-tin-cans-11568030401
Trading Economics (2019) Canada Food Inflation Forecast [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://tradingeconomics.com/canada/food-inflation#forecast
Extreme Corn and Wheat Losses
Production continue to be plagued by difficulties due to extreme weather events across the globe. Australia has become a net importer rather than an exporter of grains due to extreme weather and drought (Sullivan, 2019, para.6). China has been experiencing agricultural difficulties (Gu & Woo, 2019, paras.7-8), requiring it to invest in agriculture infrastructure in South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa (Filipova, 2018, para.3). Cool weather in the east has delayed or will result in lowered numbers for produce later next month.
Setting the stage.
U.S. wheat has experienced the worst harvests in a century going the last two years (Kennedy, 2019, paras.7). Though we have focused on wheat, corn is beginning to see negative numbers due to conditions during the winter and into spring.
Conditions over the winter produced extreme cold conditions decimating winter wheat and incurring a large snow load. Spring with a heavy snow and rain load resulted in flooding which delayed wheat and corn plantings in one of the key growing bread baskets of North America.
The floods in the Midwest resulted in the destruction of agriculture infrastructure, adulteration of carry over stocks, equipment loss, and delayed planting (Fatka, 2019, para.4). The USDA chose not to survey the losses and this led to confusion about projected figures from the current August WASDE (Nelson, 2019, para.9).
Close to home.
Wheat and corn losses are adding up, which began earlier this year with the harvest in the Southern Hemisphere and continuing into the coming harvest in the Northern Hemisphere. Food producers are seeking to fill their storage ahead the report and offering premium prices for available corn reported among conversations online.
After the release of the August 12 WADSE, the impact of the flooding was not factored in and as a result the markets reacted. One result is pig farmers are feeding their stocks with alternative sources of food like pastries not fit for human consumption (Polansek, 2019, para.1).
Crop Loss Map, Ice Age Farmer August 2019.
Wheat and corn losses are adding up, which began earlier this year with the harvest in the Southern Hemisphere and continuing into the coming harvest in the Northern Hemisphere. The U.S. harvest numbers will show continuing losses and recent Statistics Canada numbers are also predicting falling numbers (Turner, 2019,StatsCan August Production Survey Results, paras.1-3).
Corn is: used for feed which means meat is going to become more expensive, for fuel with ethanol meaning higher costs for transportation, and is used in virtually all processed foods. With this in mind, it is likely that food categories outside of produce will rise in price soon. Increases will soon be felt and observed in the food price index soon and we will expect this trend.
Bala, J. (2019, August 8). Alberta hail storm forces early end to Taber corn season. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/5744243/alberta-weather-hail-storm-taber-corn-season/
Burr, B. (2019, August 10). Reactions To Alberta’s Cancelled Cornfest News Are So Painfully Alberta. Narcity. Retrieved from https://www.narcity.com/news/ca/ab/taber-corn-crops-destroyed-in-crazy-hail-storm-photos
Gu, H & Woo, R.(2019, August 11). RPT-Crop invaders: China's small farmers struggle to defeat armyworm. Reuters. Retreived from https://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL4N258012
Fatka, J. (2019, April 5). Flood damage may be upwards of $12.5b in losses. Feedstuffs. Retrieved from https://www.feedstuffs.com/news/flood-damage-may-be-upwards-125b-losses
Filipova, V. (2018, February 26). China started to buy land aggressively agriculture land abroad. FarmLandGrab. Retrieved from https://farmlandgrab.org/27910
Kennedy, M. (2019, June 9). HRW Wheat Begins New Crop Year. Progressive Farmer. Retrieved from https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/ag/columns/cash-market-moves/article/2019/06/10/hrw-wheat-begins-new-crop-year-3
Nelson, K. (2019, August 18). Bearish shock to corn in August’s WASDE report. The Messenger. Retrieved from https://www.messengernews.net/news/local-business/2019/08/bearish-shock-to-corn-in-augusts-wasde-report/
Opinko, D. & Goulet, J. (2019, August 7). UPDATE: Crops wiped out at Molnar’s Taber Corn following Tuesday night storm. LethbridgeNews Now. Retrieved from https://lethbridgenewsnow.com/2019/08/07/update-crops-wiped-out-at-molnars-taber-corn-following-tuesday-night-storm/
Opinko, D. (2019, July 19). Taber corn will likely arrive a little late this summer. LethbridgeNews Now. Retrieved from https://lethbridgenewsnow.com/2019/07/19/taber-corn-will-likely-arrive-a-little-late-this-summer/lethbridgenewsnow.com/2019/07/19/taber-corn-will-likely-arrive-a-little-late-this-summer/
Polansek, T. (2019, August 2). Corn is so expensive that U.S. farmers are feeding their pigs baked goods and pet food. Financial Post. Retreived from https://business.financialpost.com/commodities/agriculture/u-s-cows-and-pigs-gorge-on-bakery-rolls-pet-food-as-corn-prices-surge
Sullivan, K. (2019, May 14). Australia approves foreign grain imports for the first time in over a decade. ABC News Australia. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2019-05-15/australia-approves-grain-imports/11113320
Turner, B. (2019, August 28). AUG.28 - STATSCAN SAYS SMALLER CANOLA & WHEAT HARVEST. Farmlead. Retrieved from https://farmlead.com/blog/breakfast-brief/aug-2019-statscan-wheat-harvest/
GROWING SEASON IMPACTS
The start of the growing season in the Northern Hemisphere has met with a difficult start. Following established trends of intensification going back almost forty years, there seems to be no end in sight.
Trade disputes and tariffs are making a difficult situation worse and if conditions continue it will likely result in across the board food price increase. To top what has been previously mentioned is the possible protein shortage due to disease in animal stocks worldwide for pork and poultry. Food index prices in Canada remain almost a percentage point at 3.5% above the national inflation rate.
As a follower of our content, you are no doubt aware of this graphic which details the rise in extreme weather since 1980. Taken altogether, there has been a four hundred percent increase in events from 1980 to 2018, with most being floods and extreme weather events. This intensification has been more noticeable in recent years which happens to correlate with a slow down in food production worldwide.
The 2018/19 growing season has concluded in the Southern Hemisphere and has most notably resulted in Australia importing wheat for the first time in 12 years (Walhquist, 2019, para. 1). For the other Southern growing regions, it was a similar story with decreased food production.
The Northern Hemisphere’s growing season has been negatively impacted by floods and cold weather into late spring and early summer. Major parts of the midwest, affected from flood, are still not ready for planting with estimates of 67% planted for corn over 96% last year, 40 million acres not planted (Moon, 2019, para.7). Closer to home, Albertan farmers are dealing with a loss of nearly 68% in total income, from last year to a combination of extreme weather, drought, and trade (Stephenson, 2019, para.2).
Since the inception of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in 1995, international trade rules govern the production, distribution and trade of commodities. The policies and conventions that have developed as a result of this activity has had the effect of increasing food insecurity, especially among developing countries (Martin & LaBorde, 2018, para. 7). Current actions by governments and economies have not resulted in a favorable setting.
To add fuel to the fire is the recent trade disputes and trade actions in the form of tariffs by the U.S. President. Trump has not been one to shy away from using tariffs to achieve foreign and economic policy goals, as recently evidenced by the threat of tariffs with Mexico over migrant caravans (Pittis, 2019, para. 3) or in recent trade disputes with China (Mason & Lawder, 2019, para. 3). The use of tariffs has a rippling negative effect on the world economy and food insecurity situation (Martin & LaBorde, 2018, para.2).
Closer to home, the countries where we source our food is growing in price and decreased unavailability due to regulation. Under the Trump administration, border protection has begun to enforce laws which has inhibited the continuous flow of produce over the borders. As a result, food can become spoiled due to the time it takes to cross the border (Border crisis may soon impact fruit, vegetable prices, experts say, 2019, para.10).
Close to home
In May, U.S. and Canada governments ended their trade disputes over steel and aluminium (Tunney & Simpson, ,2019, para.3). The year long dispute not only affected steel and aluminum but food products as well. Despite this trade dispute other disputes like the U.S. and China trade war has to potential to decrease Canadian Economy by 0.08% resulting in job losses of 150,000 (Tencer, 2019, paras. 2-3).
The current Canadian Food Price Index May stands at 3.5% over last year, an increase in 6% from 2.9% in April. The categories which saw the most increase is meats, fruits, and vegetables. Most meats were on par with the current rate but fish was elevated at 6.6%. Oranges and apples were at 13.2% and 22.1%, respectively. Fresh vegetables stood generally at 17.8%, with potatoes at 16.4%, tomatoes at 14.0%, Lettuce at 12.2%, and interestingly enough ‘other fresh vegetables’ at a whopping 17.8% (Statistics Canada, 2019, Table 18-10-0004-03).
The overall picture for food security is impacted by manmade and natural events. Developing countries are dealing with intensifying extreme weather and the word, “famine,” is creeping into the lexicon used by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Famine in the 1980’s were remedied as a result of a more efficient distribution of resources but extreme weather increases and food systems failures have reversed this trend, with some developing countries at near famine standards.
I have used this hiking analogy where the fastest a party hikes is at its slowest member. As a people, we progress at the pace of those in our vulnerable populations. In order to meet the rising need and to safeguard our future we need to consider alternative ways to the current conventions.
It is not known whether the increasing volatility within our climate will stabilize any time soon and it is important to our basic need that we adapt to these extreme conditions. Part of the solution is to the old ways and will be the next topic for the blog.
Border crisis may soon impact fruit, vegetable prices, experts say. (2019, April 25). Retrieved from http://www.fox32chicago.com/news/dont-miss/border-crisis-may-soon-impact-fruit-vegetable-prices-experts-say
Martin, W. & LaBorde, D. (2018, May 30). How trade wars threaten food security. Food Policy Research Institute. Retrieved from http://www.ifpri.org/blog/how-trade-wars-threaten-food-security
Mason, J. & Lawder, D. (2019, May 9). First day of U.S.-China trade talk ends; Trump's tariff hike set to take effect. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china/first-day-of-u-s-china-trade-talks-ends-trumps-tariff-hike-set-to-take-effect-idUSKCN1SF2BF
Moon, E. (2019, June 6). ‘The fields are washing away:’ Midwest flooding is wreaking havoc on farmers. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/environment/the-fields-are-washing-away-midwest-flooding-is-wreaking-havoc-on-farmers
Pittis, D. (2019, June 1). Tariff threat against Mexico confirms a deal's not a deal with Trump: Don Pittis. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/trump-mexico-tariffs-1.5157253
Stephenson, A. (2019, May 30). 'An absolutely brutal year': Alberta farm incomes plummet 70 per cent in 2018. Calgary Herald. Retrieved from https://calgaryherald.com/business/local-business/an-absolutely-brutal-year-alberta-farm-incomes-plummet-70-per-cent-in-2018
Tencer, D. (2019, May 14) U.S.-China Trade War Threatens To Shrink Canada's Economy By Enough To Kill 150,000 Jobs: BMO. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2019/05/14/us-china-trade-war-canada-economy_a_23726056/
Tunney, C. & Simpson, K. (2019, May 17). Canada, U.S. reach deal to lift steel and aluminum tariffs within 2 days. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tariff-steel-aluminum-deal-canada-trump-1.5140031
Walhquist, C. (2019, May 15). Australia to import wheat for first time in 12 years as drought eats into grain production. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/may/15/australia-to-import-wheat-for-first-time-in-12-years-as-drought-eats-into-grain-production
Need for Adaptive Change
The production, manufacture, distribution, and transportation (PMDT) system was built around the assumption that our climate was stable. Over the last 39 years we have witnessed a 200-400% increase in the four categories dealing with extreme weather and disaster. The PMDT is under continuous stress from extreme weather events and disruptions to any of these systems can result in shortages and price increases for food. In order to maintain an acceptable level of living we must consider adaptations to every facet of our lifestyle.
Our current assessments of global food production have been commented on in previous posts. The recent trend in food production has shown a downward trend for staple crops. Wheat production was the lowest in a hundred years for the states (Hoener, 2018, para.2) while breadbasket regions such as Russia, Ukraine, Europe, and Canada have struggled to produce a surplus (Sterk, 2019, para.3). Along with production declines, use of what is being produced is increasing, and storage of carryover is declining, the result of which makes manufacturers reconsider and use alternative ingredients and practices.
Update: The USDA has decided not to survey the loss of stocks in the Midwest Flood affected areas (Ingwersen, 2019, para. 1). Previous to this is the context that wheat production for the last two years has been the lowest in a century. Also, the area will be unable to produce crops due to the time needed to dry and prep for crops which will further reduce national production and stocks.
The result of decreased production of staple crops has made manufacturers reassess production practices and products. For example, it was reported that saw dust was put into bread as a filler material, listed in the ingredient list as cellulose (Wagner, 2017, para. 12). Another trend is portion and serving sizes have decreased based on rising commodity prices and is called Shrinkflation (Charlebois, 2018, para.3). These practices serve to maintain the profitability of selling food while preserving the illusion of plenty. Given current trends, at some point it will become obvious that these measures will no longer work and it will become glaringly obvious that food will become costly.
The distribution system along with other systems in our food systems was created and maintained in the premise that we had stable climatic conditions. The distribution system is how our food is delivered to grocers and to our plate.
The Just In Time (JIT) delivery system is what is used in our supermarkets distribution system. The JIT track purchases and created a forecast of needed products which arrive in time. There is no long term storage capacity for foods at food supermarkets or superstores. Any disruptions to the JIT System can result in product shortages. (Keeling, 2011, para. 8). Since we are experiencing extreme weather as a result of destabilizing climatic condition, all other supporting systems are experiencing delays which reverberate through our distribution system.
Update: The Midwest Floods affected an area that is central to distribution, many roads and railways were destroyed (Transportation Impacts of Midwest Flooding, para.2). Production and stocks were greatly affected but also the distribution system needed to transport from field to manufacturing or market.
Recent weather patterns have become more persistent and intensity in nature. Transportation has to weather extreme conditions like intense winds, heavy snow, and flood conditions which can delay in the transport of foods to markets (Sullivan, 2019, para. 3). In January here, roads were shut down near the mountains because winds reached 186 km/h which toppled transport trucks. Flood conditions in the midwest affected road and railway. The United Nation’s Trade and Development released a report stressing the need for climate change adaptation for modes of transport which is being more affected by extreme weather (UN, 2018, Act now on climate adaptation, para. 4).
This summary is in no means comprehensive but our estimation of the most pressing issues in our food systems. Fruits and vegetables are important to maintaining or increasing personal health and conditions and considering that we source 82% of our produce from out of country, this makes us extremely food insecure.
The stable climate we built these systems is a thing of the past and we must now consider Climate Change Adaptations (CCA). As growing trends become more uncertain and industry struggles to adapt, what can you do adapt? The act of growing your own food, recycling and re-purposing of scrap, and changing of food consumption practices are things that you can do. That is Climate Change Adaptation and it is needed. By instilling CCA’s into our food systems and personal habits we increase our resiliency and personal health, in the face of increasing volatility.
Charlebois, S. (2018, May 23). Shrinkflation: Why the food packages you buy at the grocery store continue to become smaller. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-shrinkflation-why-the-food-packages-you-buy-at-the-grocery-store/
Hoener, C. (2018, December 28). Planted Wheat Acres Projected to Hit 100-Year Low. U.S.News & World Report. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/kansas/articles/2018-12-28/planted-wheat-acres-projected-to-hit-100-year-low
Ingwersen, J. (2019, April 23). USDA will not survey for volume of grain lost to U.S. March floods. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usda-grains-weather/usda-will-not-survey-for-volume-of-grain-lost-to-u-s-march-floods-idUSKCN1RZ2LJ
Keeling, J. (2011, May 26). Opinion: Rethink the 'Just-in-Time' Delivery System. Transport Topics. Retrieved from https://www.ttnews.com/articles/opinion-rethink-just-time-delivery-system
Sterk, R. (2019, February 19). U.S.D.A. data dump offers few revelations. Food Business News. Retrieved from https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/13341-usda-data-dump-offers-few-revelations
Transportation Impacts of Midwest Flooding (2019, April 5). Retrieved from https://www.grainnet.com/article/166508/transportation-impacts-of-midwest-flooding
United Nations (2019). Urgent need for climate adaptation in transport, says experts. Retrieved from https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2063
Wagner, T. (2017, November 1). How wood got in our food, then out of it, then back into it again. Marketplace. Retrieved from https://www.marketplace.org/2017/10/31/business/uncertain-hour/how-wood-got-our-food-then-out-it-then-back-it-again
For historical context, we must note that the establishment of the many reserves was structurally designed for a purpose. Mary Kelm asserts that the government knew the structure of the reserve system was design to limit access to resources (Kelm, 1999, p.27). This was to foster dependence on government resources and initiate a change in culture. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the belief was that Indigenous Peoples were going extinct and those that remained needed to modernize, i.e. residential school system. The food insecurity experienced by northern and remote reserves a consequence of colonialism.
Northern and Remote
Imagine being on a fixed income and in the face of high prices, what would be your strategy? One would buy what was available and cheap. Processed foods, which are calorie dense, high in sodium, and low in nutrition is more affordable and has seen an increase in consumption by about 50% (Racco, 2018, para.1). The long term effect of eating processed food has been demonstrated to result in adverse outcomes.
The consumption of processed foods is cheap, plentiful, and time efficient. Researchers have found that the intake of processed foods resulted in increased fats, sugar, and salt consumption and decreased intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals (Moubarac et al., 2017, p.7). The authors of this report conclude that nutritional imbalances present in the Canadian Diet is a result of increased consumption of processed food and stress a return to handmade, unprocessed food product (Moubarac et al., 2017, p.10).
One final piece to the food insecurity puzzle is the availability of health services to address the health outcomes of the food insecure diet. Another finding from the Food Secure Canada report on northern and remote reserves are access to health services are limited (Food Secure Canada, 2016, p.5). The following graphic is from PROOF Toronto and illustrates how food security and health outcomes are tied, in the province of Ontario.
Those experiencing food insecurity have double the health issues than those who are not food insecure.
Experts in the field cite the global population increase, declining production numbers, agriculture tech limitations, and already maximized land use will result in food shortages. In Sarah Menker’s TedX Talk, she believes we are less than a decade before we see food become expensive and unavailable (Menker, 2017). What would this look like in contemporary Canadian society?
The purpose of this blog post is to demonstrate the long term consequence of food insecurity. We can look to these examples on Northern and Remote tribal reservations to illustrate these conditions. The health outcomes are tied to the quality of food that is consumed. Urban areas are beginning to feel the pinch and much has to do with the orientation and structure of the food system currently being used, which will be the subject of our next blog posting.
Food Secure Canada (2017). Paying for Nutrition: A Report on Food Costing in the North. Retrieved from https://foodsecurecanada.org/sites/foodsecurecanada.org/files/201609_paying_for_nutrition_fsc_report_final.pdf
Kelm, M. E. (1999). Colonizing bodies: Aboriginal health and healing in British Columbia, 1900-50. UBC press.
Menker, S. (2017). A global food crisis may be less than a decade away. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/sara_menker_a_global_food_crisis_may_be_only_a_decade_away?language=en
Moubarac, J. C., Batal, M., Louzada, M. L., Steele, E. M., & Monteiro, C. A. (2017). Consumption of ultra-processed foods predicts diet quality in Canada. Appetite, 108, 512-520.
Racco, M. (2017, December 5). Canadians, especially kids, get half their daily calories from ultra-processed foods. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/3898015/canada-kids-processed-food/
Beyond the Numbers
The Indigenous Peoples of Canada who live in northern or remote regions have difficulties achieving the necessities for optimal health. As a result of long chains of supply and distribution, food remains very expensive. It is estimated generally that 33% of Indigenous Populations are food insecure and depending on some reservations that rate could reach as high as 75.5% (Subnath, 2017, p.10).
Food like fruit or vegetables are needed to maintain or increase good health and getting more expensive. Other food options are calorie dense but lack important vitamins and minerals (Racco, 2017, para.4). Efforts like Nutrition North are underway to remedy this and there have been setbacks (Murray, 2018, para.9). As prices for food continue to increase, what is being observed in Indigenous communities may become more likely in contemporary society.
Consumer Price Index
Every month, Statistics Canada puts out a report which details the average price food across the country. As of December 1, the current average of change over last year is set at 2.0% (Statistics Canada, 2018, Table 18-10-0004-03). This means that there is an increase of 2.0% over the cost last year. When we break down this number, we find that other classes of food are lower or higher depending on the category.
When we observe the numbers for each of these classes, we find that fruits and vegetables are among the costliest. Fresh fruit stands at 1.5% but the sub category for oranges stands at 9.6% (Statistics Canada, 2018, Table 18-10-0004-03). Fresh vegetables stand at 11.3%, with tomatoes at 16.6% and Lettuce at 14.4% (Statistics Canada, 2018, Table 18-10-0004-03). Fruits and Vegetables show an almost 5 times increase over last year and we can infer that these costs can add up.
There are provincial price differences and the classes reported by Statistics Canada are not as detailed as in previous versions of the data. Recently, Statistics Canada has not been updating sub classes and other than general numbers, we cannot observe the rates for specific classes.
Fresh vegetables stands out at 9.3% over last year (Statistics Canada, 2018, Table 18-10-0004-03). The graph below show a 1.5% increase over last year (Alberta Government, 2018, Consumer Price Index Change). We expect this rate to increase considering declining production numbers. It would be interesting to note what effect the world wide potato shortage has on Alberta prices considering our production numbers were not affected by the downturn experienced world wide (Ross, 2018, para.3).
We can look to Indigenous populations and their struggle with above average food insecurity and these trends we observe are applicable to general society. If present trends continue, we may face conditions not unlike those experienced in northern or remote regions.
For example, I visited a supermarket on a reserve that had a bag of mandarin oranges selling for $7.99. That same bag was selling at a Walmart for $3.99. A 63 km difference and a $4.00 difference make eating healthy difficult to accomplish. How does one cope when on a fixed income or those experiencing poverty?
As a society, we are getting more unhealthy because of the food habits we have and where the trends are taking us. Processed food is generally much more affordable and in recent years the intake of processed food has increased dramatically by about almost 50% (Racco, 2018, para.1).
The foods we need to maintain or increase our health are getting more expensive. The health situation experienced by those living in northern or remote regions is a direct consequence of eating unhealthy. The next blog post will discuss the long term health consequences of not eating healthy.
Alberta Government (2018). Consumer Price Index Change [Graph]. Retrieved from https://economicdashboard.alberta.ca/ConsumerPriceIndexChange
Kenny, T. A., Fillion, M., MacLean, J., Wesche, S. D., & Chan, H. M. (2018). Calories are cheap, nutrients are expensive–The challenge of healthy living in Arctic communities. Food Policy, 80, 39-54.
Murray, N. (2018, October 19). 'Tokenism and optics': Inuit orgs slam feds on Nutrition North consultations. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/inuit-groups-indigenous-working-group-nutrition-north-1.4869314
Racco, M. (2017, December 5). Canadians, especially kids, get half their daily calories from ultra-processed foods. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/3898015/canada-kids-processed-food/
Ross, S. (2018, November 28). Price of potatoes expected to go up, says P.E.I. grower. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-potato-harvest-prices-shortage-1.4923905
Statistics Canada (2018). Consumer Price Index, monthly, not seasonally adjusted, Canada, provinces, Whitehorse and Yellowknife — Food [Table]. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1810000403
Subnath, M. (2017). Indigenous Food Insecurity in Canada: An Analysis Using the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey. Retrieved from https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6275&context=etd