Farm programs need more than tinkering: farm groups

Farm organizations are pinning their hopes for change on the one-year review of business risk management programs.

The clock is ticking on the process, but the review parameters haven’t yet been announced.

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett said tinkering around the edges, as was done in the recent changes announced for AgriStability and AgriInvest effective April 1, 2018, is not enough.

“It’s not really dealing with the heart of the issue,” he said July 28 from his tractor.

The issue is that farmers aren’t happy with the risk management tools they have, he said.

AgriStability is supposed to cover large income declines but it doesn’t work for many farmers across different sectors. That caused participation rates to drop.

AgriRecovery, meanwhile, doesn’t cover regional disasters.

However, farmers generally like and use crop insurance, and there is about $2.2 billion in AgriInvest accounts they can access when they experience small income declines.

The new Canadian Agricultural Partnership contains no more money than Growing Forward 2. CAP offsets changes to the reference margin limit and allows late participation in AgriStability by reducing government contributions to AgriInvest and reducing the amount of eligible allowable sales.

Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said governments can argue that farmers have left money on the table because they haven’t fully used the programs, but the changes don’t make AgriStability more palatable to producers.

“(The change) just sends signals as we go into the review process that if there’s not going to be any more money in the pot, we better take a hard look at the programs,” he said.

Grain Growers of Canada president Jeff Nielsen advised governments to give the review their undivided attention and not spend time on changes like those made for CAP.

“There has to be a way to come up with programs that work,” he said. “I don’t see this as that avenue.”

CFA has said BRM programs must be credible, demand-driven and able to accommodate multi-year income declines.

Producers should be able to count on the programs to be predictable, timely and easy to understand.

Bonnett said he is reaching out to other industry organizations such as the pork and beef sectors to present a united front for the review. All are facing changing weather patterns and international trade issues.

He said the review should consider what tools other countries use and whether they could be adapted for Canada.

“We’re hoping there’s a willingness to go into that kind of depth rather than just kick the sides of the programs and see if they need to be modified a bit,” he said.

Bonnett also said he would prefer farmer input in the process be seen as partnership rather than consultation. Being consulted every five years is hardly what farmers need, he said, and suggested a revival of something like the former safety nets advisory committee.

He added that a year should be enough time for the work to be done, providing governments supply adequate resources.

The review is just one initiative in the works.

Ottawa last week said it would extend the consultation period on a national food policy until Aug. 31. More than 22,000 people had already completed the online survey launched at the end of May.

Regional sessions are planned for August and September in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Yellowknife, Guelph, Saint-Hyacinthe and Charlottetown.

Bonnett said the government should focus on the core areas it proposed: increasing access to affordable food, improving health and food safety, conserving soil, water and air, and growing more high quality food.

“I think one of the things we have to watch is, is it just getting to be a food policy that tries to satisfy every group that’s coming out of the woodwork to have input,” he said.

The food policy was on the agenda at the federal-provincial-territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting in St. John’s in July.

Ministers also discussed labour issues, considerations for agriculture under the federal plan to legalize cannabis, how to foster indigenous agriculture and federal investments in value-added industries and high-growth areas.

Ministers endorsed the Plant and Animal Health Strategy for Canada, which addresses risks and shifts emphasis from response to prevention.

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