Applications open for funding to improve farm working conditions
By Stephanie Gordon
Applications are now being accepted for the Emergency On-Farm Support Fund in certain provinces and territories. This fund provides a $35 million investment to improve health and safety on farms and in employee living quarters to prevent and respond to the spread of COVID-19.
The $35 million is part of a $58.6 million investment the Canadian federal government made into the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) in late July amid COVID-19 outbreaks on farms. The fund was announced along with increased supports to temporary foreign workers, strengthened employer inspections regime, and the development of improved employer-provided living accommodation requirements.
The Emergency On-Farm Support Fund will provide support to farmers for direct infrastructure improvements to living quarters and work stations, temporary or emergency housing (on or off-farm), as well as personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitary stations, work stations and any other health and safety measures to safeguard the health and safety of Canadian and temporary foreign workers from COVID-19.
AAFC-delivered fund in select provinces
The Fund will be delivered by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
In the other provinces, the funding will be merged with existing programs and discussions are ongoing for some provinces that have not announced their own programs.
For the Emergency On-Farm Support Fund rolled out on October 5, eligible recipients are primary Canadian agricultural producers (e.g., farm, ranch or other operations) that produce agricultural products for resale and employ farm workers, either domestic and/or Temporary Foreign Workers.
They can include: sole proprietors, partnerships, corporations/cooperatives/communal organizations, trusts, and band farms.
For the provinces where AAFC is administering the program, the applications will be reviewed as they are received and will put priority on the highest risk farms for COVID-19 outbreaks. High risk farms will be identified based on available working space, housing conditions, and number of workers employed. Priority will be given to those projects that are mitigating the most risk, specifically where there are active outbreaks or there are a large number of workers concentrated within the farm facilities.
Contributions under the AAFC-managed program will be cost-shared 50:50 with the applicants up to $100,000. An additional 10 per cent will be provided to women and youth applicants making the split 60:40 as the government is taking steps to promote and empower women and youth in the agricultural sector.
Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau said the government aims to deliver the funding within 30 days of the application date, and the costs are retroactive to Mar. 15, 2020 and must be completed by Feb. 26, 2021.
In Ontario, a new agreement between Ontario and the federal government will see Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada invest an additional $11.6 million to expand the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program.
The federal funding is in addition to the Ontario government’s own commitment in June of up to $15 million to support workplace safety enhancements in the sector through the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program.
Actions such as building physical barriers for worker separation, upgrading HVAC systems and enhancing hand-washing facilities will be eligible for this cost-share funding.
Under the expanded program, the amount farmers can claim for preventive expenses including a combination of workplace modifications, PPE, transportation and temporary housing will double to $15,000.
The program will also include a new category for small capital projects of up to $100,000 for housing modifications, workplace modifications and equipment to allow greater physical distancing for workers.
In British Columbia, $4.9 million was set aside under the Emergency On-Farm Support Fund to help British Columbia farmers. This federal funding will be delivered by Investment Agriculture Foundation of British Columbia (IAF).
Applications will be accepted through IAF’s portal from October 27, 2020 to November 17, 2020. The $4.9 million investment is based on an estimated 640 farmers applying.
Contributions under the program will be cost-shared 50:50 with the applicants, up to $100,000. An additional 10 per cent will be provided to women, youth, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities, amounting to a 60:40 split as the Government of Canada promotes and empowers underrepresented groups in the agricultural sector.
The IAF will deliver the program under two streams. Stream one will be available for recipients looking for reimbursements of already incurred costs whereas stream two targets recipients who are looking to undertake future projects. A flexible framework will help assess applications, considering the risk to the applicants’ workers.
In Nova Scotia, a new agreement between the Government of Canada and Nova Scotia will see Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada invest $983,500, for a total of $1,229,375 available funding under the Emergency On-Farm Support Fund.
Applicants are eligible for federal assistance and a provincial top-up, for up to 75 per cent of eligible project costs, to a maximum of $50,000.
Farmers seeking to apply for funding must do so before December 31.