BRM review suggested, but too late for next program

Farmers say AgriStability and AgriRecovery aren’t working and new business risk management programs are needed

An agreement on the next agricultural policy framework, expected in July, could be in jeopardy, Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart suggested after a ministerial meeting last week.

“I think the possibility of that does loom,” he said in an interview when asked if the five-year deal might not be signed.

“I don’t want to get into the intricacies, but there were some pretty direct comments made yesterday, and responses, and as far as I’m concerned, we have a lot of work to do before there’s the possibility of an agreement in July.”

Ministers and officials met in Ottawa in advance of the annual meeting in St. John’s this summer, where they are supposed to approve a suite of programs to take effect April 1, 2018.

Business risk management programs and money became sticking points during the discussion.

Stewart said he is putting faith in officials to find common ground over the next few weeks.

Ontario Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal proposed a comprehensive business risk management review after hearing from farm organizations in his province.

“I just want to be clear that Ontario’s belief is that we should sign a framework agreement coming into the federal-provincial-territorial meeting in July,” Leal said in an interview. 

“Within that agreement we believe a provision for a BRM review should take place.”

He said the review would begin this July, and the report would be delivered to ministers in July 2018.

In the meantime, the status quo would stay in place as far as BRM programs are concerned.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier supports a review.

“Ontario approached me some months ago with this idea,” he said. 

“My own personal thought on it is I don’t think that a review will necessarily hold up a signed agreement.”

Farmers across the country have been asking for changes. 

AgriStability in particular has been harshly criticized. Participation in the income stabilization program has dropped significantly after changes were made for the 2013-18 version.

Leal also said AgriRecovery doesn’t work well. Regional disasters such as the drought that hit five counties in his region last year aren’t covered.

“With climate change today, you can have a hailstorm in southwestern Ontario, you can have a drought in eastern Ontario and too much in northern Ontario, so we have to have programs that reflect current conditions,” he said.

He said there is enough money in the existing envelope, but it has to be used more effectively. 

However, others wonder how 
$3 billion will accommodate issues such as climate change and food processing added to the framework last year.

Carlier said Alberta is adamant that AgriInsurance must stay and suggested that more money could perhaps be found.

“If there’s going to be any changes, buffering of (reference margin limiting) in AgriStability, for instance, there might be some more money,” he said.

Stewart said Saskatchewan has asked for one specific change to AgriStability, but he won’t discuss that publicly.

“But there are other suggestions on the table that we may have problems with,” he said.

He also questioned the apparently large hammer Ontario wields in this round of negotiations.

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay has always maintained that each jurisdiction gets only one vote.

Deputy ministers are now working on how a review could be done and will report to the July meeting.

Meanwhile, the AgGrowth Coalition, which was formed earlier this year to make sure the next framework properly addresses BRM programs, said it was disappointed there was no clear commitment to a comprehensive review.

The coalition met with MacAulay the day before the ministerial meeting to press its request.

“Farmers are frustrated with the current state of risk management and want to see government and industry work together to find the right fit,” said Jack Froese, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association.

“We continue to hear from farmers across Canada that current business risk management programs are not providing the signals that support farmer decisions around investment and growth,” added Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett.

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