CDN budget: Ag-food value added, research, inspection, transport analysis

Canada’s agriculture industry is front and centre in Ottawa’s plan to grow the economy after years of flying under the federal government – and the public’s – radar.

Ottawa has challenged farmers and processors to grow their agri-food exports to $75 billion annually by 2025. Current exports hover around $50 billion annually.

Wednesday’s federal budget embraced recommendations first suggested by Ottawa’s economic growth council – chaired by Dominic Barton – in February. The council, notably Barton, has urged the Liberal government to lean on the agri-food sector in order to spur economic growth.

It’s a suggestion that has been championed by Canadian farm groups. Based on their latest budget, Ottawa seems to think its a good idea, too.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau told the House of Commons Canada’s food industry is “positioned for success.

“By 2050, global demand for food is expected to rise significantly,” Morneau said. The world, he said, will want more Canadian agricultural goods – a demand that will lead to more jobs across the sector.

The plan to help the sector achieve that target is still in the works.

Ottawa has pledged some $5.2 billion for jobs and skills training, with funding also promised for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

However, none of that money has been earmarked to deal with the burgeoning labour crisis Canadian farmers and processors say could cripple the industry. Nor does it say how Ottawa plans to convince Canadians the industry is a sector that’s worth working in.

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Budget 2017 does not include specific funding to help Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada better position itself so that it can help the sector reach its new agri-food export goal. There is also no specific funding for the Agri-Marketing Program.

Ottawa has also kept silent on the amount of money it will put into the pot for the next Agriculture Policy Framework.

There is money for research. Ottawa has promised $70 million in funding for discovery science aimed at tackling climate change and soil and water concerns. Agriculture Canada has also been promised some of the $200 million promised for clean technology.

Another $80 million has been set aside to rebuild and reinvigorate the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Sidney Centre for Plant Health. That cash, Ottawa said, will be used to build a “new, world class plant health research facility will help support the safety of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector, while facilitating trade and economic growth that benefits all Canadians.”

CFIA is also getting $149.3 million over five years to “renew core food safety inspection programming” that will target meat processing plants and keep CFIA’s Inspection Verification Office running.

Innovation has emerged as a key theme in Ottawa’s latest fiscal plan.

Ottawa plans to create a new Strategic Innovation Fund valued at $1.26 billion over five years. That fund, which will be created by merging current business innovation funds for defence and the auto industry together and will also draw on $200 million in new funding spread over three years.

Half those funds are part of the $160 million for an Agri-Food Value-Added Investment Fund the Liberals promised during the 2015 campaign.

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That funding is no longer solely earmarked for the agriculture sector. Those close to the file insist agri-food will still be able to access and compete for Canadian innovation funding given Ottawa plans to directly target the sector for longterm growth.

To ensure Canadian goods actually get to market, Ottawa has proposed creating a new Canadian Centre on Transportation Data that would track performance measures. The data bank will be created in partnership with Statistics Canada, other levels of government, industry and universities. It is expected to cost $50 million allotted over the next 11 years.

Ottawa has also promised to spend some of its infrastructure money on key trade corridors –including the Port of Vancouver.

Another $2 billion in infrastructure money has been promised for projects in rural and northern communities.

On the tax front, Ottawa has eliminated an exemption for insurance companies who provided casualty insurance for farmers and fishermen. The exception, valued at about 10 million, had been in place since the 1950s and applied to companies who had at least 20 per cent of the business tied to farms and fisheries.

Consultations will be launched on the cash ticket deferrals on listed grains that currently allow some grain farmers to defer a portion of their income by one year. Ottawa wants to end the program.

Ottawa did not propose tax changes aimed at making farm transfers between family members easier – despite repeated asks from the agricultural sector.

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