Plans for next Growing Forward programs underway

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Canadian agriculture ministers and farm leaders are turning their attention to what a new agricultural policy framework should contain.

It’s not yet clear how changes made to business risk management (BRM) programs for the 2013-18 Growing Forward 2 program have affected farmers.

However, there is widespread discontent with AgriStability and many farmers claim they have no hope of payments because of cuts to the program in 2013.

A Manitoba BRM task force is gathering information from farmers in that province and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has a committee working on it as well.

CFA president Ron Bonnett said he is curious to see how AgriStability performs for those affected by drought this year.

Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said officials continually analyze data from AgriStability as it comes in but it’s too soon to say exactly how the changes affected farmers. A more formal review of the policy framework begins next year.

He said crop insurance is the first line of defence and AgriStability is there to cover drops in five-year average incomes.

While many focus on the reduction in the payment trigger from 85 percent of the five-year reference margin to 70 percent, Ritz said they don’t talk about the improvement in negative margin coverage.

“That’s the most important for guys that got caught in a flood or a drought and now a drought on top of a flood,” he said. “That’s where they’ll really do an analysis.”

Ritz also said there is about $2 billion in AgriInvest that farmers can access if they need immediate help.

“If they need to buy feed or whatever, they’ve got that pool of money there,” he said. “We’ve eased up on the triggers and what it takes to trigger that money out.”

The minister added that constant analysis of GF2 will lead to a clearer picture of what GF3 should look like.

Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart, who was unhappy with the 2013 changes, said the weather challenges of 2015 will test the program and get more people thinking about the future.

“I had to accept the fact that other governments were not prepared to fund AgriStability at its previous level,” Stewart said.

“Clearly the coverage won’t be what it would have been before those changes were made. I didn’t like it at the time and I might still not like it but it’s the new reality.”

Stewart said everyone gets a vote on the programs, including provinces where agriculture might not be as important to the economy as it is in Saskatchewan.

“We’ll do the best we can and try to have the programs in place that will serve the needs of our producers,” he said.

Bonnett said programs will always need fine-tuning to deal with changing market conditions or climatic events, but having frameworks in place has alleviated the stress of asking governments for ad hoc payments to deal with crises. Farmers no longer stage tractor rallies or protests to get help.

“With the five-year windows, at least you know what the rules are,” he said.

CFA says programs should stabilize income, provide disaster assistance, provide production insurance and offer companion programs.

Ritz said that’s what farmers have.

“The trick with BRM programming is one will never do it. It takes a suite of programming and we have that.”

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