Prairie provinces have AgriStability proposal concerns

Prairie provinces continue to review the federal government’s proposed changes to AgriStability, but already it seems unlikely they will accept them.

During the final day of federal-provincial-territorial agricultural ministers’ meeting on Nov. 27, Ottawa proposed removing the program’s maximum reference margin and increasing the compensation rate from 70 to 80 percent (retroactive to 2020, and until 2022).

Saskatchewan’s Minister of Agriculture Dave Marit, alongside some of his counterparts, had raised concern over the ability to pay for those changes.

“The offer was put really on the 11th hour on Friday, on where they want to go. But they didn’t actually put any further offer on the funding side,” he said. “The disappointing part that we’re concerned about is the 60-40.”

Federal minister Marie-Claude Bibeau proposed the program would continue to be paid for at a 60-40 split between Ottawa and the provinces, rejecting a provincial proposal made earlier this year that would have seen Ottawa pay 90 per cent of the costs.

Ag ministers have spoken more than 20 times in recent months trying to find a solution for AgriStability, a program producers say is confusing and uneven in the way it pays them.

“Just about every call we had with (Bibeau), we asked her if there was any opportunity for her to, you know, to consider a counter proposal or anything, and she never did,” he said.

Provinces are now reviewing Bibeau’s proposal, but there is no timeline on when they are expected to get back to her.

“There was a lot of things that were unknown in this,” Marit said. “We didn’t know if the reference margin limit was going to be removed or changed, or we didn’t know where the compensation rate — if it was going to go, or if they were going to remove the trigger.”

He said the changes being proposed by Bibeau “definitely impacts the prairie provinces greater” because that’s where the majority of AgriStability claimants are.

“It is disproportionate when you’re making changes like this, on what the impact is to each jurisdiction,” he said.

Marit said his government is doing a cost analysis of Bibeau’s proposal, despite it being a difficult task. For example, it’s unclear how many more people would sign up for a changed program, or if there will be disasters requiring large pay outs. Plus, the future of COVID-19 is unknown.

“One thing we’ve really looked at that we think is important, is really having flexibility within the program on a regional basis or provincial basis. So that we want to see,” Marit said, adding he hopes the review of the proposal will be done “before Christmas”.

While Saskatchewan doesn’t yet have an estimate on what the cost may be, Manitoba’s agriculture minister Blaine Pedersen said the changes will cost at least $15 million more each year.

He is asking farmers to consider other options, and has been a vocal opponent of AgriStability in the past. Pedersen contends farm income could be better stabilized by insuring farm margins with governments and farmers sharing the cost of premiums.

“We want to look at the long-term stability of farm programs to make sure that they are bankable, that they are timely and that they work for the farm community,” he said.

Alberta’s agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen said in a statement following the meetings there was support for a new, alternative program to AgriStability.

“The most popular model to replace AgriStability is a whole farm insurance-based model that would benefit all types of farmers, ranchers and producers,” the statement said, echoing Pedersen’s proposal.

Prairie provinces have also expressed concern the federal government is preparing to reduce funding to other business risk management programs, such as AgriInsurance or crop insurance.

Meanwhile, producer groups continue to wait for changes to business risk management programs.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) said in a statement it was “pleased” by the federal government’s “strong leadership” to improving AgriStability.

“CFA is very supportive of the proposed increased support put forth by Minister Bibeau. Our farm supports are still lagging far behind the (European Union) and (United States). While these proposals are not exactly what we were seeking, they are a very positive step forward for the business environment of Canadian agriculture,” said CFA president Mary Robinson in a statement.

– with files from Allan Dawson, Glacier FarmMedia

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