Clues to the next agriculture policy framework

It doesn’t really even have a name yet. Next Policy Framework (NPF) is just a temporary moniker.

The previous five-year program frameworks for agriculture were Growing Forward 1 and then Growing Forward 2.

The new Liberal government has resisted the urge to refer to the next federal-provincial deal as Growing Forward 3, so at some point a new handle will be coined.

To their credit, governments started work on the NPF long before the expiration of Growing Forward 2. The wheels of government move very slowly, but there seems to be a concerted effort to have programs in place and move from one framework to another without big gaps.

Whether you think it’s noble or misguided, we have a federal government committed to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. That will have an impact on agriculture both within and outside the NPF.

Within the NPF, don’t be surprised to see a renewed emphasis on environmental farm plans.

Most prairie farmers who went through the environmental farm plan process many years ago were motivated by government support for best management practices. However, the environmental farm plan was not a living document. The thick binders have collected thick layers of dust. While there’s still funding for a few best management practices, very few producers have updated their plans.

In the NPF, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a resurrection of the environmental farm plan approach with a much greater emphasis on emission reductions.

Outside of the NPF, biofuel policy will have a great impact on agriculture, and at this point there are mixed expectations of how the federal government will proceed.

Some are hopeful that ethanol and biodiesel will be viewed as part of the solution to reducing carbon emissions, thereby increasing the biofuel demand for corn, wheat and canola.

Others say a full life cycle assessment shows ethanol and biodiesel are poor choices for overall emission reduction. If the government adopts that view, expect new demand to be minimal.

What happens south of the border might be even more important. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump appears to be an ethanol supporter, although at this point everyone is still trying to guess what approach he will take on a large number of issues.

The lion’s share of funding for the NPF will likely remain business risk management — in other words, the farm safety net programs of AgriInvest, AgriStability and AgriInsurance.

Will government contributions under AgriInvest remain at one percent of eligible net sales? Will there be some sort of tax abatement to encourage producers to withdraw the money as long as it’s used for specific types of on-farm investments?

And what’s the fate of AgriStability? Enrolment continues to drop, and its shortcomings have been widely discussed. Can it be fixed or should it be replaced, and if so, with what?

If you have views, let both levels of government know. Whatever the NPF is ultimately named, five years is a long time to harbour regrets.

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