Pressure is mounting on the Prairie governments to ante up their share of AgriStability program enhancements.
Farm organizations lined up behind federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Jim Carr, minister responsible for the Prairies, after they publicly pleaded last week with the three provinces to say whether they would agree to removing the reference margin limit and boosting compensation to 80 percent.
“It has been just over 110 days since we made this offer to the provinces,” Bibeau said March 17.
“We need a strong consensus that includes the Prairies if we are going to move forward with these changes that farmers have been asking for and we are anxious to know, have prairie agriculture ministers taken the proposal to their cabinets and their premiers? Are they supportive of these changes?”
Bibeau planned to convene a ministerial meeting March 25, after publication deadlines for this issue, and she said she expected the ministers to come with their decisions.
All three prairie agriculture ministers issued statements after the Bibeau and Carr news conference, saying they continued to review the proposal and had all requested a meeting for further discussion.
“Alberta’s government called on the federal government over two weeks ago, on March 2, to schedule the next federal-provincial-territorial meeting to discuss and finally vote on short-term changes to AgriStability,” said Devin Dreeshen. “I look forward to discussing improvements to business risk management programs with my colleagues across the country.”
Saskatchewan’s David Marit said he last spoke to Bibeau on Jan. 29.
“It is nice to see after all this time that the federal minister is finally willing to bring her provincial and territorial colleagues back to the table to complete this important discussion on enhancements to AgriStability,” he said.
Similarly, Blaine Pedersen in Manitoba said that province continued to review the proposal at the meeting.
“It is essential that we continue to work together for the immediate and long-term needs of our producers,” he said.
None of the ministers indicated if they had actually taken the proposal, and its accompanying costs, to their cabinets.
Meanwhile, several national organizations issued a joint statement calling for action on the proposed changes.
“We need to have tools that help us better manage the risks of weather, trade and production,” said Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. “The proposed program enhancements will do that and better position the beef industry to contribute to Canada’s economic recovery.”
Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson said farmers are making risk management decisions now.
“There is no time left to wait. We need clarity now.”
The Canadian Pork Council chair Rick Bergmann said producers understand that governments are focusing on COVID-19 and economic recovery, but that a consensus on AgriStability as soon as possible is required to mitigate economic risks.
Provincial organizations including 11 commodity associations in Alberta also said the decision is urgent because the deadline to enrol in AgriStability is April 30.
“Accepting the current proposal would offer Alberta’s producers meaningful changes that will serve as a bridge to the next policy framework in 2023,” the groups said.
Carr cited work done by the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan that showed a 2,000-acre grain farmer would receive $4,000 from the current program but $75,000 under the improved version.
“I see these changes as investment in their success,” Carr said of farmers.
Bibeau said consultations on the next five-year framework agreement that begins in 2023 have started but short-term fixes shouldn’t be overlooked.
She said her request to come to the meeting with a decision is not a take-it-or-leave-it situation.
“It’s been said by all the ministers during our 22 meetings last year that it was a priority to fix AgriStability so I really want to make it happen and I will keep the offer on the table, but I mean, it’s time to act,” she said.
Bibeau also said it is possible to break the proposal into two parts, but removing the reference margin limit would have to be done by all provinces.
“It really has to be done at 100 percent or not at all,” she said. “For the compensation rate it’s technically feasible but it’s not on the table yet.”