The pandemic was undoubtedly the single biggest shock to the Canadian agriculture and food industry in 2020, and its impact will have some lasting effects, according to Farm Credit Canada’s (FCC) economics team.
“A year ago, we were saying climate change, protectionism and automation had the most potential to not only significantly reshape Canada’s agriculture and food industry, but also disrupt the global economy,” said J.P. Gervais, FCC’s chief agricultural economist. “I think it’s safe to say the emergence of the global pandemic has added fuel to that fire of change and now tops our list of most significant trends to watch in 2021.”
According to FCC’s two-part blog series, the upheaval caused by the pandemic continues to test global supply chains and disrupt trade patterns around the world, as countries apply various measures to stop the spread of the virus. It has slowed or shuttered momentarily food processing facilities, disrupted movement of Canadian agriculture commodities and processed food to several export markets, and significantly altered consumer buying habits, especially when it comes to in-home dining and grocery shopping.
At the same time, geopolitical tensions added to the uncertainty brought on by the global pandemic, shifting trade flows. To make matters worse, climate change continued to wreak havoc in agriculture, spawning extreme weather events in parts of the world. All told, 2020 will go down as a year of major disruption on almost every front.
However, as much as the pandemic has caused supply chain disruptions, it has also created an opportunity for Canada to further entrench itself as one of the world’s most trusted and reliable suppliers of food and agriculture commodities, according to Gervais.
“The pandemic has only heightened consumer demand for locally sourced food, accelerating what was already a pre-pandemic trend,” he said. “At the same time, the needs of major food importers and our key export markets will grow even if economic uncertainty continues to prevail in 2021.”
There are clear signals pointing to strong domestic and global demand. He notes, for example, higher savings and pent-up demand that could drive growth in red meat consumption, which could be bolstered by the possible reopening of food services in 2021. Globally, weather challenges could strengthen import demand of major grains, oilseeds and pulses.
Global supply chains are still signalling that Canadian exports are important. High-income economies, such as Japan, the United States and the European Union, continue to have the potential to further tap into Canadian exports. China — given its size and growing economic strength — also holds potential for opportunities.
“If the stars align and we are able to quickly turn the corner on this pandemic in 2021, we could see an economic rebound that allows us to mostly recover from last year’s 4.2 percent global economic contraction,” Gervais said. “By meeting the needs of importers during a pandemic, Canada has an opportunity to further strengthen its position as one of the world’s leading agriculture exporters.”
The big question remains how the health and economic fallouts from the pandemic will intersect with climate change and geopolitical tensions to impact agricultural production and trade this year.
“While there are many challenges on the road ahead, there are also many opportunities for Canadian food producers and processors.” Gervais said. “The key is to have a good risk management plan to ensure your business remains strong and viable to take advantage of those opportunities as they arise.”
By sharing agriculture economic knowledge and forecasts, FCC provides solid insights and expertise to help those in the business of agriculture achieve their goals. For more information and insights on what to expect in 2021 and beyond, visit the FCC Economics blog post at fcc.ca/AgEconomics.
FCC is Canada’s leading agriculture and food lender, with a healthy loan portfolio of more than $41 billion.