Ministers to outline priorities for next ag policy framework

Canada’s agriculture ministers will gather in Ottawa May 10 for their annual spring meeting.

The meeting is officially being billed as a preparatory meeting on the next Agriculture Policy Framework, which is expected to be finalized when the ministers meet in Newfoundland and Labrador in July.

The current Growing Forward 2 framework expires in 2018.

The ministers unveiled their priorities for the pending framework when they met in Calgary last July. The six priorities include trade, research and innovation, business risk management, environment and climate change, value-added agriculture and manufacturing, and public trust.

On business risk management, Ontario wants decisions and reforms on the file delayed for one year to ensure the programs are suitably flexible.

Canada’s business risk management programs, particularly AgriStability, have been heavily scrutinized by farm groups, provinces and even the federal department in recent years, thanks to declining participation rates and farmer insistence that the program doesn’t work.

Ottawa has promised to review the program ahead of the next policy framework.

Ontario wants that timeline extended by another year. Current program funding and design would carry forward until a final decision can be reached, Ontario has said.

Jeff Leal, the province’s agriculture minister, has said Ontario’s proposal is in part tied to last year’s severe drought that hit parts of the province hard. Ottawa’s agriculture disaster relief program — called AgriRecovery — requires a province-wide disaster declaration, a designation Leal has said doesn’t work when there is severe crisis in certain regions, but the rest of the province is fine.

Risk management is again top of mind. Many fields in Central Canada are underwater thanks to recent severe, ongoing flooding in parts of Quebec and Ontario. Many fields are now tiny lakes, so it is unlikely that seeding equipment will be able to get into them for several weeks.

There’s more rain in the forecast, which is raising fears about more seeding delays. Couple the Central Canada seeding delays with those already being reported in the Prairies, not to mention the unharvested acres, and conversations around business risk management just got a little more interesting.

The seeding delays aren’t the only agriculture issue expected to be raised when the ministers meet this week.

Ottawa still hasn’t unveiled its plan for the grain transportation file. The promised legislation will not be unveiled before the ministers meet.

Parliament must give 48 hours notice of any incoming legislation. Monday’s notice paper does not bear any mention of the bill.

It’s safe to assume the agriculture minister will also be expected to provide his provincial counterparts with an update on the file when they meet.

Lawrence MacAulay has repeatedly said this year’s crop will move. However, he has not said how he plans to ensure that will happen.

As of press time May 8, Ottawa had not said whether it plans to extend the current legislation, despite pleas from several farm groups.

Another file of note is trade. The May 10 meeting is the first time the agriculture ministers will meet in person since U.S. President Donald Trump attacked Canada’s dairy industry.

MacAulay and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have repeatedly promised that Ottawa will defend the sector. Ontario, for its part, has vowed that it will not “cede one inch” on the file.

Questions remain about the timeline for a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. With a pending Mexican presidential election, Congress requiring a 90-day notice period before negotiation can start and a U.S. mid-term election fast approaching, it’s unclear when the talks will actually start.

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Steward has said NAFTA will be a priority for him at this week’s meeting. With farmers nervous about continued market access, provincial ministers will be looking to Ottawa for some reassurance.

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