Alberta farmers urge government to change farm support programs

Municipal leaders and farming organizations in Alberta are urging the provincial and federal governments to take action on business risk management programs after facing what many describe as a harvest from hell.

A group called Team Alberta, which represents the province’s major crop commissions, said in a news release that programs are ill-equipped to mitigate the challenges of harvest this year.

As well, it said, trade disruptions and the looming federal carbon tax are compounding the problem.

“Farmers are facing the perfect storm of devastating harvest conditions, trade uncertainty and a lack of support through programs that should be mitigating these challenges,” said Dave Bishop, chair of the Alberta Barley Commission, in the release.

The province’s latest crop report, which captured conditions as of Nov. 12, said recent snowfall largely halted harvest.

Alberta’s Peace Region has been hampered most, with only 65 percent of all crops combined. The rest of the province has harvested 87 to 97 percent of crops.

The value of unharvested acres is pegged at $778 million, Team Alberta said.

Urgency to help producers was echoed during the Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention in Edmonton on Nov. 15.

County reeves and councillors asked the province if any new programs are in the works to address the awful harvest.

“People are hurting,” said Brent Reese, a councillor with the County of Northern Lights, speaking to the panel of ministers.

“This year has been disastrous for agricultural producers and our county has declared a state of agricultural disaster, along with many others in our region,” he said.

In response to concerns, Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen said the province is going to push the federal government to make immediate changes to programming, noting it goes up for renewal in two years.

As well, he’s also seeing if there are ways efficiencies can be made at Agriculture Financial Services Corp. so producers could see payments sooner.

“Lots of the farm groups say it’s been a harvest from hell, but as farmers, we’ve been through hell before and we want to make sure we’re there as a government to provide support programs that work at the end of the day,” he said.

He said AFSC has estimated it will have to pay out $700 million this year because of the bad harvest.

With business risk programming, Team Alberta is asking for immediate adjustments to AgriStability.

It wants the program to increase covered losses starting at 85 percent of reference margins and for the removal of the reference margin limits in time for the 2020 harvest.

As well, Team Alberta is pressing the federal government to exempt farmers from paying the carbon tax on fuel used for farming, which includes fuel used to operate grain dryers and irrigation.

“Many of those in the worst hit areas won’t be able to get their crop off until the spring, which could push this year’s delays well into next year’s growing season,” said John Guelly, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, in the news release.

“Aggressive action from our governments on trade, business risk management programs and the carbon tax is a must,” he said.

AFSC has said it is ready to help producers.

In a news release, it said eligible clients can take advantage of a post-harvest advance or a preliminary payment. It would allow them to receive a portion of their estimated claim as an early payment within days of submitting their harvested production report.

As well, it said it will consider deferring loan payments on a case-by-case basis for farmers facing financial strain.

It will extend production insurance coverage to unharvested crops until the crop can be combined in the spring or managed by other means, it added.

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