Ag ministers commit to AgriStability changes

QUEBEC CITY — Canadian agriculture ministers are promising changes to AgriStability in time for the 2020 program year.

Just how extensive those changes will be is unknown.

Coming out of their annual meeting in Quebec City last week, ministers said they need more data before committing to improve the program that is supposed to help farmers when margins drop.

They plan to hold a second meeting before the end of the year to review that information and make the changes.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said she and the provincial ministers extensively discussed business risk management programs.

“We discussed a range of options on potential changes to AgriStability,” she said. “We agreed to meet again this fall to discuss further, and directed our officials to come back to us with a set of improvements to be implemented in 2020.”

The minister said more significant changes could be made to the BRM programs next July, but they will start with improving AgriStability.

Farmers have complained about the program, saying it doesn’t work as originally designed. Participation has dropped, and cow-calf producers and grains and oilseed growers in particular say it has to change.

A coalition of farm organizations had asked that the program be adjusted to pay out at 85 percent of reference margins, instead of the current 70 percent.

“BRM is broken,” said Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson. “We’ve been very clear in our ask.”

She said the problem isn’t new but the current trade disruptions highlight it more than ever.

Long-term restructuring is key, she said.

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit said the discussion at the table ranged from blowing up AgriStability completely to making moderate changes.

“There were suggestions all over the map in that room,” he said.

There are concerns about money because it is a cost-shared program and not all provinces could afford to pony up more to pay for an enhanced program.

“It’s easy to say take the margins here or there, but who’s going to pay for it?” he asked.

Alberta minister Devin Dreeshen said with only one year of the five-year Canadian Agricultural Partnership complete, ministers need more current information about how the program is working.

But British Columbia’s Lana Popham said producers in her province have clearly said that AgriStability doesn’t work for the cow-calf and grains and oilseeds sectors.

“It doesn’t really kick in when you would expect it to be able to kick in to help people out,” she said.

“There’s a lot of common ground from provinces that certain things don’t work for them so that’s why we’ve committed to coming back six months early with some solutions to these problems.”

She said all agreed they didn’t want to wait another year when some changes could be made sooner.

For example, officials will analyze how the program treats private insurance payments.

Marit said they will also look at allowable expenses under the program.

“We’re looking at some low-hanging fruit,” he said. “Those are things that really don’t impact the program as far as financial dollars but could really enhance the program for producers.”

There will be a federal election before the ministers meet again but they said that shouldn’t change their plans.

“I think regardless of what government is in power, then we as provincial leaders have to say to the government of the day, ‘these are the right changes to make. We’ve asked you to do it,’ ” said Marit.

The ministers plan to meet next July in Guelph. A date and location for the second 2019 meeting hasn’t been set.

Grain Growers of Canada said it was disappointed that specific changes to AgriStability weren’t made last week.

“As grain farmers we have to ask where the government’s sense of urgency is,” chair Jeff Nielsen said in a news release. “Real progress on business risk management programming was needed, and I would suggest achievable, long ago, and yet we emerge from another FPT meeting with nothing tangible.”

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Karen Briere
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