AgriStability frustrations voiced on Manitoba tour

Prairie producers say delays in delivery mean producers are out of pocket and sometimes out of business before the money arrives

After speaking to more than 300 farmers, Manitoba’s agriculture minister received a clear message: AgriStability doesn’t work.

In late July, Blaine Pedersen travelled across Manitoba for four days to talk with producers about business risk management programs, markets, innovation, technology and other issues within the ag sector.

He held 19 meetings throughout the province, in groups of 10 to 20 at farm shops and ag retailers. In one of those many conversations, a producer neatly summed up the problem with AgriStability.

“One of the comments… was the farmer who said: Yep. The (AgriStability) cheque comes after the auction sale,” said Pedersen, during a conference call with media Aug. 5.

AgriStability, a provincial-federal cost-shared program, is supposed to protect farmers against sharp drops in income because of production losses or adverse market conditions.

Producers told Pedersen the program doesn’t provide a flow of cash when the money is actually needed.

“You have to have a 30 percent drop in your income in order to qualify. You then get the accountant to do your application and then you send it in to AgriStability,” Pedersen said.

“In a year and a half, if you’re lucky, you may get paid…. Cash is king. We still need timely help (from) programs. AgriStability is not that way.”

Several producer groups in Canada have called for a return to pre-2013 coverage levels of 85 percent and the removal of AgriStability margin limits.

Such a move would be costly, especially for a program that isn’t functioning, Pedersen said.

“Right now, Manitoba’s contribution to AgriStability is about $19 million,” he said.

“If we were go to 85 percent and remove the reference margin level, our costs would go to in excess of $37 million…. Even if you could justify the cost, it doesn’t fix the program, in terms of making it timely.”

Nationally, it’s been estimated that resetting AgriStability coverage to 85 percent could cost $300 million.

Another issue with AgriStability is the administration cost.

Of Manitoba’s $19 million, five million is used to deliver the program.

“We’re spending about 25 percent of our budget on administration (for) a program that’s not working very well,” Pedersen said.

Manitoba producers aren’t alone in their frustrations.

In June, the Grain Growers of Canada and other farm groups told a similar story to the House of Commons agriculture committee.

“Enrolment in AgriStability by Saskatchewan producers is well under 50 percent. Producers see little value in the current program,” said Todd Lewis, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president.

The agriculture committee is expected to present a report on the effectiveness of BRM programs, sometime this fall.

AgriStability wasn’t the only topic of discussion during Pedersen’s tour of Manitoba. He also heard farmer thoughts on market opportunities, technology, innovation and resiliency.

Producers who didn’t attend the meetings can provide their feedback online.

The province has set up a website, engagemb.ca. It is a discussion forum and a place for producers to post comments this summer.

Pedersen and Manitoba Agriculture say they plan to use the feedback to prepare for the federal-provincial agricultural ministers’ meeting, scheduled for Oct. 14-16.

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