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Recovery program aimed at boosting agri-food sector

COVID-19 Recovery Fund to help entrepreneurs automate, package, cool product
A new COVID-19 recovery fund will help Northern Ontario agri-food producers enhance their operations, including automating processes. (Adobe stock photo)

Agri-food businesses in Northern Ontario are getting some help adapting their operations to meet the challenges and opportunities posed by COVID-19.

The Sustainable New Agri-Food Products & Productivity (SNAPP) Program COVID-19 Recovery Fund was announced on July 6.

Under the program, eligible businesses can receive funds to help with equipment for automation or reducing labour in processing; cooling and freezing units to safely deliver product; and packaging equipment.

Businesses can apply under one of two streams.

Under the Adaptation stream, applicants can receive up to $10,000 at a 50 per cent cost share for individual projects that address opportunities related to the COVID-19 crisis.

Under the Strengthening Value Chains stream, businesses can receive up to $25,000 at a 50 per cent cost share for collaborative projects that improve food value efficiencies and competitiveness.

The Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN) in Sault Ste. Marie, a division of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, will lead the project in collaboration with the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance (NOFIA). Funding comes from FedNor.

“COVID-19 has posed a significant challenge for the agri-food sector to adapt in the face of market disruption,” RAIN manager David Thompson said in a news release.

“This funding delivered through the SNAPP Program will assist agri-food businesses with adaptation projects and value chain development.”

Producers have seen an increased demand for locally produced food during the pandemic, as uneasy consumers voice their concerns about access to supply and risk of contamination.

As a result, many businesses have moved online, launched new initiatives, or expanded their market share over the last few months.

Peter Bruijns, the Sault innovation centre’s executive director, believes the agricultural sector will play a key role in helping Northern Ontario to not only recover but also grow.

“This sector can create and sustain jobs and resolve our food security issues over time,” he said in the release.

“This funding is valuable in helping sustain the agri-food economy and helping us prepare for the food challenges of the future.”