Farm families adapt as coronavirus measures impact Sask.-Man. border communities

By | April 11, 2020

Families farming along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border are having to adjust to new lifestyles and business changes as border checkpoints have been established to ward against the transmission of COVID-19. 

“We weren’t sure it would happen but now we are seeing that coronavirus is here in our community and we are feeling that concern,” said Alexandra Raml, a farmer operating along Highway 5W, three kilometres from one of the new checkpoints. “It’s real here.” 

The Manitoba government created four checkpoints on the Saskatchewan border to hit every person entering the province with information about the novel coronavirus.  

After recently being stopped at a checkpoint, Raml decided to end her regular trips to Roblin, Man., where she purchases groceries and farm supplies like oil, machine parts and livestock feed; she plans to use supplies currently on her farm instead. 

Raml is concerned that the small businesses her community depends on will struggle without the support of the interprovincial border community. The closest Saskatchewan grocery store is over 50 kilometres away. 

“What was happening in Regina and Saskatoon, we really just feel the effects now,” she said. “It’s coming close and is really serious right now.” 

‘That’s the heartbeat of small towns’

Agribusinesses serving the border communities are moving services online, said Karen Fatteicher, an agronomist and the owner of Roblin-based 360 Ag Consulting. She is optimistic that businesses like hers will be considered essential services during the COVID-19 crisis but is concerned about the shops and restaurants that keep her small town alive.  

“Your clothing stores, your flower shops, hairdressers — all those little businesses — they cumulatively are very important to our economy and they are shut down right now. That’s the heartbeat of small towns. They are support systems and lifelines and it’s important to our community that they pull through,” said Fatteicher, whose family also farms along highway 5W by the checkpoint. 

“From an economic standpoint, this is your tax base, your income coming in. If these shops close permanently, then the money is leaving here and our dollars are going elsewhere. That’s unfortunate.” 

‘Coronavirus doesn’t care about borders’

Producers across the province are being reminded that now is the time to take extra precautions. 

We have a good social network in rural Saskatchewan and it’s at times like this it really shines.– Todd Lewis, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan

Raml’s family has concerns about the virus being transmitted to their household through off-farm services. There are a number of trucking services that will be delivering seed, fertilizer and gas to her yard over the coming weeks — some from the U.S.

“It’s a reminder to everyone that coronavirus doesn’t care about borders or the size of the town,” says Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Todd Lewis. 

“People have to realize that this is serious and the virus is just as problematic in rural Sask. as it is in New York City.”

Travellers returning to rural communities are being asked to self-quarantine and they are being supported by neighbours.

“It’s not just going down the street to the store but in many cases travelling many miles to get groceries. Rural people really go out of their way to help one another,” said Lewis. 

“We have a good social network in rural Saskatchewan and it’s at times like this it really shines.”

Compounding issues

Additional stress brought on by the COVID-19 crisis has compounded with last year’s difficult harvest. According to the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Company, the area near the Manitoba border was among the hardest hit last year.  

“A person struggles to make a living and you add something like this and it piles up, it’s very, very stressful,” said Jane Andres, owner of a fertilizer company Andres Farm Services LTD, which is based out of the border community of MacNutt, Sask. “You have to keep positive. It’s people who are thinking of one another and being there to do the right thing. 

“It’s a farmer’s heart.” 

Jane Andres owns the fertilizer company Andres Farm Services LTD, which is based out of the border community of MacNutt, Sask. (Submitted by Jane Andres)

Andres’s son works as an EMT in the area and she is concerned about his two children. As a fourth generation farmer, Andres can recall neighbours lost to accidents and illnesses and said those losses have a lasting impact on the tightly knit community.  

“People don’t realize that things like this can take their kids. It’s when you realize that it can happen to me, it changes your perspective.”

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