AgriStability under review as feds, provinces make minor tweaks to program

Agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau speaks to farmers in Saskatoon July 14 and 15.  |  Michael Raine photo

OTTAWA – Minor changes are coming to AgriStability following a meeting of Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and her provincial counterparts.

Major changes will have to wait. A full review of federal Business Risk Management (BRM) will be completed in April, with the findings discussed when the federal, provincial and territorial ministers meet again in July.

The one-day meeting in Ottawa on Dec. 17 resulted in a decision by the ministers to change the way private insurance is treated under the AgriStability program for the 2020 year.

Private insurance will be able to complement AgriStability, being used as a “top up” according to Bibeau, if producers choose to use it. The federal government will also pilot a project that will use tax return information for those applying to AgStability in hopes it will make it easier to apply to the program, which has long described as complicated by producers.

Bibeau didn’t entirely reject the idea of changing reference price margins under AgriStability, saying she wants to first see a review of all the BRM. Farm groups are calling for the margins to be returned to 85 per cent from the current 70 per cent.

“Changing the limit to AgriStability would impact both the federal and provincial and territorial governments. And we thought that it would be more appropriate to start by doing a review of the programs and making sure that when we’re ready to put more money on the table, we would do it towards the right program,” she said.

The cost of increasing the limit back to 85 percent is estimated to be around $300 million.

Currently, around $1.5 billion each year is dedicated to BRM programs, with AgriStability and AgriInvest being the core ones available to producers needing help covering losses due to revenue declines or falling prices.

Bibeau said agriculture ministers want to move fast on addressing the issue, and raising the reference price margin is “always an option, but we were not ready at this stage to go forward with such a significant increase.”

For now, provinces and federal officials will evaluate the impact of changes to the reference margin limit and changes to eligible expenses under AgriStability.

Agriculture ministers from prairie provinces also had a chance to discuss the issue of carbon pricing with Bibeau. There are continuous complaints from producers and prairie governments that the cost of carbon is having a significant and costly impact on farmers drying their crop this year.

“I asked them to provide data, and help me gather more information on the situation, if I want to evaluate properly the impact on the sector,” she said, adding later that, “We recognize that the agriculture sector may face other types of challenges.”

Bibeau said she is open to evaluating getting more carbon pricing relief from producers, but reiterated that she needs more data in order to make a strong case to her colleagues at the federal cabinet table.

Already the federal government has announced it will be reviewing the impact of carbon pricing on the agriculture sector early in 2020.

The ministers also discussed trade challenges facing the agriculture industry and the African swine flu.

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