Safety nets a concern

Good times bring their own challenges, such as high land prices.

However, some farmers at Keystone Agricultural Producers’ annual meeting worried that governments are gutting safety nets while farmers are distracted by present profitability.

“Farmers need to realize that AgriStability is no longer part of the protection you have,” Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan vice-president Todd Lewis said during a farm leaders panel.

The slashing of the safety net program’s reference margin and changes to the manner in which it is calculated were raised during the convention and discussed avidly at coffee breaks.

Manitoba agriculture minister Ron Kostyshyn assured farmers during a speech that farm safety nets will continue to cover them.

“Manitoba farmers will continue to have a complete and effective suite of business risk management programs to protect against severe market and production volatility,” he said.

Federal and provincial agriculture departments are now negotiating the next generation of farm safety nets, called Growing Forward 2, which should be finalized this spring.

There is broad, general agreement on much of the approach to the next generation, including increased research and innovation funding and limiting cash payouts for problems, but some farmers worried at KAP and at Manitoba Ag Days that good times are allowing governments to walk away from a responsibility to protect farmers if things go bad.

“We run under the principle of marketplace, not mailbox,” federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said at Ag Days.

Kostyshyn had a similar attitude at KAP: “Producers these days do not want to farm the brown envelop coming in.”

Well known farm policy critic Butch Harder fulminated against the changes to safety nets, the ending of the CWB monopoly and changes like those occurring to the Canadian Grain Commission.

“The changes that are coming to the grain commission, we should look at that with horror because those changes that are coming are designed for less and less control by the farmer,” said Harder.

World Farmers Organization president Robert Carlson said farmers need to make sure the present period of prosperity allows farmers to acquire more influence because “when we speak (now), we are listened to.”

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