Ag budget up, RMs upset no hike for roads

Agricultural leaders were pleasantly surprised to see a 7.5 percent increase in sector spending in last week’s Saskatchewan budget.

The ministry saw a larger percentage increase than health, at 1.5 percent, and education at 0.7 percent, in a budget that projects a $434 million deficit on spending of $14.46 billion.

Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Norm Hall said the increase indicates that agriculture is viewed as the province’s economic backbone.

“That in itself is a story,” he said after seeing the June 1 budget details.

The agriculture budget for fiscal 2016-17 is estimated at $390 million, compared to $361 million last year.

It includes an additional $14.6 million to fully fund business risk management programs at a total of $254 million. Crop insurance premiums are up significantly to go along with increasing coverage levels, said Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart.

The increase also comes from a $17.2 million estimated expenditure on the crown land sale incentive program, which was introduced in November.

The program offers a 10 percent discount to lessees of crown land that is farmed or was once farmed. The discount is in place until Dec. 31, when the program will wind up a year ahead of schedule.

Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association president Doug Gillespie said his organization was pleased there are no tax increases in this budget and that agricultural spending was boosted.

“For the way things are, I think we have to be relatively pleased with how things went,” he said, referring to declining provincial revenue caused by low resource prices.

The Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association also appreciated the status quo on taxes.

“We’re in the process of building the herd to meet increasing demand, and we can’t do that with a higher tax burden, especially in light of the current volatility in the cattle futures market,” said chair Ryan Beierbach.

Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, said RMs are disappointed they didn’t receive more money for roads. They wanted funding for the Municipal Roads for the Economy Program re-turned to 2013-14 levels of $25.5 million.

Instead, they will stay at last year’s level of $16 million. They also wanted a two-year funding commitment, but didn’t get one.

“We would ask the province to rethink that if oil or potash revenues went up,” Orb said.

However, he said SARM is happy with the agriculture budget and pleased to see that SaskTel plans to spend $300 million to improve its network across the province.

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