Ministers get farmers’ wish list

Growing Forward 2 changes | Cuts to risk management program have many worried

Next week, Canada’s agriculture ministers gather in Halifax for their annual federal-provincial meeting and Canadian farm leaders have a wish list of topics they would like to see discussed.

There also is one topic they would like to see discussed but have little hope.

Research, succession planning help, curbs on agricultural land speculation and the need to nail down some important trade deals all are part of a menu of topics ministers should deal with, farm leaders said in interviews.

One topic many wish would be on the agenda but almost certainly will not be is the potential fallout from the dramatic cuts to business risk management funding under Growing Forward 2, approved when ministers last met in Whitehorse 
in September and implemented April 1.

The changes significantly diminish farmer benefits under AgriStability and AgriInvest, cutting potential farmer support by several billion dollars over five years.

However, with commodity prices remaining robust and the program barely started, farm leaders have little hope ministers will revisit the issue.

“Farmers aren’t going to realize until the latter part of 2014 the freight train that is coming at them,” Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales said.

Applicants for those programs are working on 2012 returns so “old rules, old coverage.”

Next year, with inevitable crop and price variations “farmers will realize how much they should have gotten and didn’t. But I do not expect ministers will revisit that this year when they don’t have to,” said Wales.

Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Norm Hall, one of the strongest farm leader voices against last year’s business risk management cutbacks, agreed the issue will not likely be on the ministers’ agenda but he will push the politicians to at least reconsider when a review of their changes should take place.

“We would like to see a review process sooner rather than later and it is now set for three or four years down the road, just before the next generation of Growing Forward is due,” he said.

“We would like to see it in year two when the first evidence is available.”

Meanwhile, farm leaders have other topics they say ministers should address.

Growing evidence of a decline in research funding is high on the list.

“I just don’t think there has been a lot of attention paid on research and I think that should be reversed,” Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett said. “Robust research is the future of the industry.”

He said when CFA leaders meet with ministers before their conference, there also will be a pitch for more robust support for farm succession planning.

“As we are in an industry transition, it really is something they should keep in mind. There are barriers now that there needn’t be.”

Hall said the issue of speculative investment in farmland and use of Retirement Savings Plans as capital to invest, driving up the cost for farmers trying to buy land, should be on the agenda.

And Liberal trade critic and farmer Wayne Easter argued that agriculture ministers should make a strong statement in support of sealing a trade deal with the European Union.

A four-year negotiation seems to be hung up in part in a dispute over Canadian beef access to the EU.

“We need this deal and the beef industry won’t like to hear this but if we want a deal, we need to make some compromises that increases access but maybe not as much as we would like,” he said.

The Halifax conference is expected to feature Ontario premier, agriculture minister and intergovernmental affairs minister Kathleen Wynne in her first appearance at an agriculture ministers’ meeting.

Several other provincial ministers including British Columbia’s Pat Pimm and Quebec minister and deputy premier Francois Gendron may not attend.

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