What agriculture wants to see in Monday’s budget

The federal budget is set to be released Monday.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture released its wish list for the budget in August, offering three broad recommendations, each highlighted by specific measures that can be taken.

To kick-start the economic recovery, the CFA recommends the government restore the AgriStability payment trigger to 85 percent and eliminate the cap to reference margins. Since then, a partial agreement with the provinces has been reached to remove the reference margin limit.

Citing a $77 million investment from the federal government to help food processors combat COVID-19, the CFA says additional support is needed for the processing sector.

“To secure these critical food infrastructure links in advance of a second wave and the peak harvest season for many Canadian commodities, CFA recommends the next federal budget increase financial support to the food processing sector,” the document says.

“In addition to this support for existing food processors, CFA also recommends that the next federal budget invest in programming to support the development of more food processing facilities across Canada.”

Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau has previously expressed interested in growing Canada’s regional food processing facilities.

CFA is also asking Agriculture Canada “to reallocate underutilized AgriMarketing program dollars to implement a buy Canadian campaign for Canadian retail channels, and engage exporters to identify and address key export opportunities.

The wish list also includes a call for better leveraging of agriculture’s environmental contributions. They ask the government to create programs allowing “producers to generate credits for agricultural activities under both the Federal Greenhouse Gas Offset System and Clean Fuel Standard.”

Protocols for carbon offsets in some sectors of agriculture are currently in development and the CFA continues to lobby the government on this front.

Building resilience into Canada’s food system through a $3 million investment is another CFA ask. It proposes the dollars be used to reduce job vacancies “through career promotion, improve skills-training opportunities for workers, support human resource management training and certification, and support commercialization of labour-saving technologies.”

The CFA also requests the federal government reinforce a $50 million fund targeted at reducing food waste.

For the 2021 budget, members of Parliament recommend the federal government restore AgriStability levels to previous levels, create a national labour strategy for agri-food and develop a new business risk management program focused exclusively on climate change.

The multi-partisan committee heard testimony and received submissions from more than 800 groups and individuals. Mostly virtual meetings took place in December, and the consultation report was released Feb. 16.

One recommendation is to “work with industry to develop a labour action plan for Canada’s agri-food sector.”

It’s a recommendation that will be welcomed by many in the industry. Food and Beverage Canada offered testimony to the committee and called for the development of a labour action plan.

The organization represents 1,500 food and beverage manufacturing businesses in Canada, and has long been a vocal supporter of developing such a strategy.

It released its own pre-budget consultation in August, which lobbied for a rebalancing of relationships across the supply chain.

The finance committee also recommended the creation of a new business risk management program focused on climate change.

Called AgriResilience, the program would be designed to “to help farmers transition to lower-carbon agriculture practices, thereby reducing the growing climate risk in this sector. An AgriResilience program would reward innovation and the adoption of new, more resilient farming practices, thereby helping to reduce climate risk.”

It’s an idea that originated from Équiterre, a Quebec-based environmental organization with ties to the Liberal cabinet via one of its founders, Steven Guilbeault, who is Canada’s minister of heritage.

Équiterre also recommended the federal government “adopt and fund a national strategy with nature-based solutions in the agriculture sector to limit growing GHG emissions and protect soil health.”

Canadians didn’t get a 2020 budget: it was an early casualty of COVID-19, cancelled in the pandemic’s infancy. Economic updates and a series of spending announcements, almost entirely COVID-19 related, were released instead.

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