Feds must provide details to back up AgriInvest claim

Details matter when making decisions on the farm, but critical details are missing from the federal government’s inventory of Canadian farmers’ AgriInvest deposits.

They’re either missing or the government doesn’t want to release that information for some reason. Either way, the details matter when governments try to justify lack of additional financial assistance for producers.

Canadian farmers and their representative groups are very interested in the AgriInvest accounts because federal assistance to producers appears to be hinged on them.

Over the past couple of months, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has made it clear that she is having difficulty expanding agricultural financial programs when one business risk management tool, AgriInvest, is said to be going largely unused.

Bibeau says her cabinet colleagues suggest that if farmers are truly in need of government assistance, they should show it by exploiting all the tools available to them.

Inside Canada’s AgriInvest accounts there was, as of last year, $2.3 billion. Current accounting, and most importantly a breakdown of the accounts summary by sector and by other demographics, would allow producers and cabinet to better understand the issue.

The government, despite requests from this news organization and others, has not or cannot provide these details.

But some things are obvious.

Producers in supply-managed commodities don’t, with the dairy or feather sales calculated out of net, participate in the program unless they have mixed farming operations.

A grain farmer in her late 60s with few debts and nearing the end of a career in agriculture might have significant deposits.

Younger pig producers might not have been as fortunate after having few seasons of profits under their belts.

Grain farmers, depending on size, location and luck, might have fairly large deposits or none at all.

Total farm cash receipts in Canada from crop production were about $26 billion last year. Livestock, cattle, pigs and sheep had receipts of about $14 billion. Income from other eligible crops in 2019 was about $10 billion.

Net receipts for grain and oilseed operations in 2019 were likely less than $5.5 billion. For livestock they were about $1.4 billion. It is unlikely that the government, through a combination of Canada Revenue Agency and Statistics Canada data collection, does not know the breakdown of deposits in the AgriInvest accounts by sector. At the very least, it must have a reasonably accurate summary.

Farmers, their representative organizations and all members of the federal and provincial cabinets should be apprised of the data related to AgriInvest funds.

The numbers may appear significant to some elected officials, but they might not be representative of what is happening on the farms of Canada.

Younger grain farmers with many acres and small assets may have almost no deposits and those in livestock might be vulnerable due to tight margins overall.

The farmers and ranchers who are the future of the industry are likely the ones with the least to draw on from AgriInvest and thus the ones most in need of additional government assistance.

But how will we know, if the government doesn’t release the figures? And how can our legislators make these critical decisions?

The federal government needs to make an accounting of the AgriInvest deposits available. It can’t continue to deny producers’ need for further assistance without providing numbers to back their claims that it isn’t needed.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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