Sask. budget increases agricultural spending

The Saskatchewan government is adding $23.1 million to agricultural spending in the new provincial budget, increasing the total to $386.97 million. | File photo

Most of the increase will cover business risk management changes, including crop insurance, AgriStability and AgriInvest

The April 6 Saskatchewan budget added $23.1 million to agricultural spending for this fiscal year, pushing it to $386.97 million.

Most of the increase is for business risk management spending to cover a rise in crop insurance premium costs, the recent removal of the AgriStability reference margin limit and an extra $2.7 million for AgriInvest.

Crop insurance premiums are estimated at $150.1 million, while AgriStability contributions are up to $25.3 million.

“We will be protecting our producers with $265 million for business risk management programming,” said agriculture minister David Marit in an interview.

The budget also includes $2 million more for the wildlife damage compensation program that is available to all producers whether they have crop insurance or not. That increase is due to better commodity prices, Marit said.

Finally, the agriculture budget includes $71.2 million for strategic programs offered through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a research investment of $31.8 million, and $2.5 million for irrigation projects that are outside of the proposed megaproject at Lake Diefenbaker.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said it was pleased with the budget, particularly the spending on AgriStability, irrigation development and maintaining research funding.

Finance minister Donna Harpauer has often said her worst fear is a crop failure because of the sector’s contribution to the overall economy.

She said agriculture is key to the economic recovery from COVID-19 because of the spin-offs, the export value of production and manufacturing, and jobs.

“Agriculture truly has been the saving grace through these very difficult times,” she said.

In the third quarter of the previous fiscal year, a $200 million reduction in anticipated crop insurance claims contributed to a better bottom line than expected.

APAS president Todd Lewis said agriculture is ready and able to lead the recovery. In 2020 the province’s agricultural exports rose by 31 percent from the previous year. Producers harvested the second-largest crop, recorded at 39 million tonnes.

“I think if we get enough rainfall this spring (there is) no reason not to expect another record year of export,” Lewis said.

Because the government presents a summary budget, some agricultural spending appears within other ministries or agencies.

For 2021-22, the overall spending estimate for agricultural-related items comes in at $879.3 million. This includes the ministry, the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute, the Saskatchewan Agricultural Stabilization Fund, the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. and Prairie Diagnostic Services.

SaskBuilds is currently leading the Lake Diefenbaker irrigation expansion project, so the $18.9 million set aside for Phase 1 appears there.

Marit said there is also overlap with environment, trade and export, and the Water Security Agency.

The government has allocated $5 million for four new international trade offices in this budget although it has yet to say where those will be. The current offices are in China, Singapore, Japan and India.

There is $3 million available to invest in an agriculture technology venture capital fund, plus funding for the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization.

Marit said he didn’t have to give up anything when it came to his budget requests.

“I commend my colleagues for listening to what we’re trying to do here and respecting it,” he said. “I think that just shows that this government gives priority to agriculture.”

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, however, noted that earlier the government didn’t agree to increase the compensation rate under AgriStability, which left farmers with less protection.

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