Sask. budget reduces agriculture spending 2.5 percent

Saskatchewan’s agriculture budget is down 2.5 percent this fiscal year, but agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said farmers shouldn’t feel an impact.

The budget, announced March 18, estimates spending of $362.4 million this year.

“There is minimal impact on our programs and more importantly on our clients,” the minister said. “We will be offering the same programs and the same or better coverage.”

One change farmers will see is a one-year suspension of the gopher control program after hardly any uptake in 2014. Only $17,000 of an allocated $175,000 was spent.

As well, the program to help municipalities repair bridges over irrigation works has been cut in half. Stewart said the province budgeted $1 million for each of the last two years but never spent more than $500,000 and budgeted accordingly this year.

Business risk management programs are fully funded at $240 million, including $154 million for crop insurance.

Growing Forward 2 program spending is down slightly to $71.2 million, but Stewart said that is because the province under-spent the first year, over-spent the second and is now back on track for its five-year $388 million commitment.

Water infrastructure and irrigation infill are funded, and $4.2 million is set aside for industry grants.

Stewart said the improved perception of agriculture is one of his priorities.

“We believe that one of the biggest threats to our growth won’t be lack of investment or the loss of resources but not having the ability to use the tools and techniques we currently have available to us or losing social licence,” he said.

The ministry has allocated $800,000 through GF2 to support industry agriculture awareness campaigns.

He said the province was founded on agriculture’s promise, which continues to be a key economic driver, contributing 10 percent to the gross domestic product and employing 50,000 people across the province.

Meanwhile, the budget did not contain any money for a large-scale water project such as the long-anticipated Qu’Appelle South initiative, which would provide water to the Regina-Moose Jaw corridor and irrigation.

“When it’s announced, it’ll be a big deal and this probably isn’t the year to be announcing very expensive new projects,” Stewart said.

He added an announcement is coming shortly about a replacement for the Saskatchewan SPCA’s rural animal protection service.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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