With grocery store shelves looking not quite as full as we’re used to and the pandemic bringing food security to everyone’s mind, the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) has decided to take steps to support food producers in the area.
The pandemic has both highlighted the importance of food security and increased the demand for locally grown products. As a result of this, the CBT has announced two new support programs for food producers. One program will provide loans and operational and equipment needs and the other will provide wage subsidies to help hire workers.
“In response to the increase in demand caused by the pandemic, basin farmers are gearing up to expand production,” said Johnny Strilaeff, the CBT’s president and CEO. “In speaking with these producers we heard there are gaps in current COVID related supports, and because agricultural production is a priority for the trust, we’re stepping in to offer these new programs. This will help bolster the region’s food supply, create employment and alleviate longer term economic impacts in the basin.”
For primary food producers, there are the Basin Food Producer Loans. This program is for those that grow grains, vegetables, fruit, forage or raise livestock. It provides loans for working capital and equipment.
In order to be eligible for this loan, there are several requirements that businesses must meet. For example, the business must earn its primary source of income through food production, have a minimum of $35,000 annual farm sales, be operating and selling for at least two years and be based in the Columbia Basin. The food producer also must not have accessed any other COVID-19 loan support funding from the federal or provincial governments or from the Community Futures program. Applications for these loans are available on the CBT website as of May 6, 2020.
Those primary food producers can also access the second program, the Basin Food Producer Wage Subsidy which is administered by the College of the Rockies. Producers who are bumping up production due to the pandemic can now get financial aid to hire workers through the growing and harvesting season.
The wage subsidy will cover 75 per cent of an employee’s hourly wage up to a maximum of $15 an hour and the maximum subsidy a producer can apply for is capped at $10,000. The eligible employees can be working any time between May 1 and October 31, to encapsulate the entire planting, growing and harvesting seasons. Additional eligibility requirements can be found on the CBT website although interested parties should note that the subsidies will be offered on a first come first serve basis until the available funding runs out. Applications opened on May 11.
These two new support programs are not the only way that the CBT is supporting communities in the basin. The CBT has increased their assistance through several already existing programs, including the Small Business Working Capital Loans, the Impact Investment Fund, Summer Works, School Works, the Career Internship Program and many more.