Provinces balk at late participation in AgriStability

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Saskatchewan won’t give farmers the option to enrol in AgriStability after yearly deadlines, and Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart says other provinces will likely follow suit.

The provision was one of the changes announced in the new five-year policy framework, now known as the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, after last week’s federal-provincial-territorial ministers’ meeting in St. John’s.

The CAP will take effect April 1, 2018, and remains at $3 billion.

Stewart said ministers agreed on many aspects of the policy, but this was one he couldn’t support.

“It’s a piece that the feds were committed to; I don’t understand it,” he told reporters after the meeting.

“I respect (federal Agriculture) Minister (Lawrence) MacAulay for his stated goal of trying to increase participation in AgriStability, but I think this will have the opposite effect.”

Sources said the federal government was adamant about including the late payment mechanism, but few provinces understood why.

Participation in the program, which is designed to cover income shortfalls, has dropped from about two-thirds of producers to one-third under the changes made for the current Growing Forward 2, and Ottawa was intent on turning that around.

According to the communique issued after the meeting, the late participation mechanism is designed to make sure all producers can access the program. However, it would be triggered only when a significant event occurs and would pay out 20 percent less than it does for those who enrolled on time.

Stewart said Saskatchewan has spent a lot of time and energy to convince farmers to proactively manage their risk by using available programs. He said allowing producers to enrol after they have a wreck, even if it is at 80 percent funding, and after others took those measures to protect themselves, will negatively affect enrolment.

“Late participation will not be available for Saskatchewan producers, and I believe a number of other provinces are going to take the same tack with that,” he said.

Alberta minister Oneil Carlier said he had “some misgivings” over the mechanism but thought the overall agreement was a good one.

MacAulay said each province had to give up a little for the sake of the agreement.

“Everybody had to put a bit of water in their wine to make sure that we come up with a policy that moves the agriculture sector forward,” he said.

Manitoba’s Ralph Eichler agreed, saying everyone had to do what was best for producers.

Other changes to business risk management programs for the 2018-23 period include altering the AgriStability reference margin limit to guarantee producers at least 70 percent of their reference margin.

“I think the reference margin shift was a great asset,” MacAulay said.

“It allowed certain commodities to be able to access the program more. The fact is that it lets people in cow-calf operations and maple syrup farmers and blueberries and other sectors have more fair access to the program.”

Stewart said that was one point on which everyone agreed.

Funding will be reallocated to make the programs cost-neutral, resulting in a reduction of the maximum allowable net sales eligible under AgriInvest to $1 million from $1.5 million. Government matching contributions will drop to $10,000 per account, down from $15,000.

Ministers noted that AgriInvest accounts currently contain about $2.2 billion, which gives producers quick access to funds if needed.

Minimum payments under both AgriInvest and AgriStability will increase to $250 from $75.

As expected, ministers also agreed to a one-year review of BRM programs, with a specific focus on AgriStability.

An external expert panel that includes producers and academics will inform the review, and the ministers said broad industry consultation will take place. They are to consider options that would improve program efficiency, timeliness, predictability and cost-neutrality at their next meeting in Vancouver.

Ontario minister Jeff Leal, who pushed for the review at a May ministerial meeting, said he was pleased it will happen.

“Our particular focus in Ontario is seeing it from the producers’ view, the folks that are on the back concessions and the kitchen tables, and to make sure as we go forward that BRM programs and the potential reform of BRM programs match the very laudable goals that have been outlined in the Barton report,” he said, referring to the report that named agriculture as a main economic driver for Canada’s future.

Ontario also wants the review to address coverage for regional disasters under AgriRecovery.

Each province still has to sign bilateral agreements with Ottawa for its non-BRM programming under CAP.

Stewart said Saskatchewan already offers programs that address the new priority area of environment and climate change, for example, so a bilateral should be fairly straightforward.

The Western Livestock Price Insurance Program will continue, although Stewart said it wasn’t clear if it was a permanent part of CAP or still a pilot.

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