The federal government is projecting sharply lower agricultural spending in the fiscal year beginning April 1, partly because of cuts to farm income support programs launching next month.
Commodity prices that are expected to remain high will also reduce demand on the AgriStability program, says a government analysis.
And in the face of opposition criticism of the cuts, agriculture minister Gerry Ritz insisted that, as usual, spending plans will increase through the year as unbudgeted costs arise.
Still, a government explanation of the cuts provided to MPs notes that “the department is currently on track for meeting its 2013-14 savings target.”
Whatever the explanation and the depths of spending cuts, the government is projecting hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced agricultural funding next year.
According to main spending estimates tabled in Parliament last week, the government projects $2.191 billion in agricultural 2013-14 spending.
It is $227 million and nine percent less than the $2.418 billion in spending projected a year ago in 2012-13 main estimates.
It is also $600 million, or 21 percent, lower than budgeted spending for the current fiscal year to date.
Included in the projected cuts was a 30 percent reduction in spending on food safety and biosecurity risk management.
NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen called the move reckless.
“Reduced meat inspections, ignored compliance orders and increased self-regulations, why are they gambling with Canadians’ health and why are these reckless cuts coming to Canada’s food safety system?”
Ritz dismissed the question as an inaccurate “diatribe.” He said more money will be added to the food safety file through the coming year as provinces sign federal-provincial biosecurity agreements that will draw a 60 percent funding commitment from Ottawa.
Allen shot back that treasury board president Tony Clement had said that across-the-board cuts to main estimates were “harbingers” of more cuts to come.
Whatever the accuracy of the main estimates tabled last week, the analysis provided to MPs made clear that the government considers the projected agricultural cuts the first payback from last year’s Growing Forward federal-provincial agreement.
Farm support from AgriStability will decline under the agreement, as will the government’s matching investment requirements for farmer deposits in AgriInvest.
The new Growing Forward 2 programs will focus on more proactive investments in innovation, competitiveness and market development, the government analysis said.
The estimates also reduce CWB funding to $53.5 million for 2013-14 from $184 million this fiscal year.