Farmers want input on program changes

Alberta producers are asking for a meeting with their agriculture minister as the clock ticks down to the signing of an agreement that will direct farm programs for the next five years.

Federal and provincial ministers meet in less than a month, but farm leaders in Alberta are wondering what happened to discussions with them, the people that the programs will affect.

“What strikes me is the enormity of the programs and the importance of the programs that there should have been a lot more discussion of the programs,” said Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers.

“It should have been discussed at considerable length, but it hasn’t.”

Instead, farm groups across the country are left wondering what farm programs will look like when the five year Growing Forward 2 program is revealed in Whitehorse in mid-September.

Humphrey Banack, past-president of Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, said the secrecy around the changes from both the federal and provincial governments prompted his organization, with co-signatures from 12 other provincial farm groups, to ask Alberta agriculture minister Verlyn Olson for a meeting about the changes.

“We would like some transparency of what we have to look forward to,” said Banack of Round Hill, Alta.

“We don’t have to get into the bare bones details, but some kind of consultation and information sharing, that’s what this letter is asking for. We would like some clarity where our provincial minister is looking to go.”

Olson said he can’t give producer groups more information until he knows what is in the agreement still being worked out.

“I guess if what they’re looking for is the final wording of the final agreement and what it’s going to say, well, I don’t know that myself right now, so I don’t know how I can give it to them.”

He said Alberta’s position is largely based on what officials heard from farmers and farm groups during consultation meetings.

“I can’t take them all to Whitehorse and ask them what they think on each individual issue.”

Olson said he is a “little disappointed” farm groups would feel they have not been consulted about the changes to the programs.

“I basically have been occupying myself all summer meeting with industry groups,” he said.

“I had dozens of meetings, and started every meeting with, ‘tell me what’s on your mind. What your issues are.’ They had an open invitation to talk to me about Growing Forward or anything else they want. It’s a little bit hard for me to read that they’ve been shut out of consultation. I certainly feel we’ve been as proactive as we possibly can.”

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