Higher operating costs caused by government programs also hurting the sector.
Ottawa-High grocery store prices for fruits and vegetables are turning off consumers from buying them and that is hurting the country’s growers, says Rebecca Lee, Executive Director of Fruit and Vegetable Growers of Canada (FVGC).
Fresh fruit prices were up 9.6 per cent in March 2022 compared with the same month of 2021. Vegetable prices in stores will increase by another 6 to 8 per cent in 2023, she told the Commons Agriculture Committee.
More than 26 per cent of Canadians have reduced their consumption of fruits and vegetables in the past year, she said. Even before the pandemic, close to 80 percent of Canadians were not eating the servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by Canada’s Food Guide.
The lower sales have left many of the country with 14,000 fruits and vegetable growers struggling financially, she said. On top of that has been a 40 per cent increase in input costs.
“Fertilizer leads the way, with a 72 per cent increase since 2020. Fuel has gone up 65 per cent while labor has increased by 20 per cent and shipping by 42 per cent.
“Our growers are generally unable to recoup their costs through the sale of their products and 77 per cent of respondents have not been able to raise their selling price in line with their increased costs, and 44 per cent are selling at a loss.”
Growers also continue to be burdened by costs associated with increasing retailer fees, multiple labor and food safety audits, and new requirements to demonstrate sustainability.
“We fully support a strong integrity regime to ensure our food is safe and sustainably grown and that our workers are being treated fairly. However, it is the layering and often duplication of these audits that are some burden to growers. Government is adding to the pressure by introducing carbon disincentives and other environmental goals to meet international agreements, without balancing them with adequate and agile funds to support change.”
Almost three quarters of FVGC members have “had to delay buying equipment or investing in their operations, including exploring new environmental practices, because they simply can’t afford to invest,” she said.
“Produce growers are very susceptible to production risks, which can be extremely high due to the volatility of prices, high dependence on labor and the perishability of production.”
Most growers do not receive any help from AgriStability and AgriInsurance and do not have the safety net available to most Canadian farmers.
There is also a big difference in the amount of support they receive in environmental programs compared to US growers.
“We analyzed them, and green funds are available to Canadian farmers per acre at $2.95 versus over $6 per acre for farmers in the United States. Right there it’s demonstrated that we have fewer supports.