While celebrating his early successes, the minister of ag sets his sights on the next projects to tackle
By Andrea M. Gal
In a recent interview, Ernie Hardeman’s pride shone through when recounting how his ministry has worked closely with the Ontario ag industry over the past year to solve problems.
In roundtables, industry stakeholders highlighted how “red tape and regulations that were not serving any purpose were hindering them from being successful,” the minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs said to Farms.com. So, “we tried to change each (regulation) that we were told was bothersome or that was standing in the road of success.”
OMAFRA began by making improvements to the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program, Hardeman said.
In September, OMAFRA “updated the Farm Business Registration Number requirement to allow applicants to apply to the program if they have a valid number in the current or previous calendar year or have a valid exemption. (It also) updated standardized pricing methodology to provide separate pricing for steers and heifers, with the intent of providing compensation in closer alignment with market prices,” Bianca Jamieson of OMAFRA’s communications branch said to Farms.com.
In February, OMAFRA made further updates, including allowance of “more ways to provide sufficient evidence” of wildlife predation and the creation of “a more independent and transparent appeal process,” a ministry release said.
The program “is working much better now,” Hardeman added.
A more recent example of how the government has helped the industry overcome challenges is through its response to the high vomitoxin levels in the 2018 corn crop, he said. “We started off by calling everybody (processors, growers, consumers, etc.) together in a roundtable in Toronto to talk about what we needed to do … to deal with this challenge.”
Beginning on Dec. 6, farmers could apply for 50 per cent cost-share funding under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to undertake DON testing.
In March, the federal and provincial governments announced a tiered corn salvage benefit which will be in place beginning with the 2019 crop. The benefit starts at 52 cents per bushel for DON levels of three to five parts per million (ppm) and increases to $1.08 per bushel for levels over 8 ppm.
“We got through it and got the problem under control,” Hardeman said. “This was a great sign of how, by working together with the industry, we can all be more productive.”
Turning to a discussion of the challenging start to the 2019 growing season, Hardeman noted how, on June 7, Agricorp extended the planting deadlines for insurance coverage. He highlighted the need to find the right balance between “accommodating the late season” and examining the risks associated with a shorter growing season for a given crop.
Recently, farmers have taken advantage of some windows of good weather and “There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Hardeman said. “A great portion of the corn and beans are now in the ground and hopefully, if the rain stops (soon), we can get back at it and get (planting) finished.”
Going forward, the ministry continues to focus on initiatives affecting the ag industry.
The first initiative Hardeman highlighted is the ministry’s review of safety net programs, which include AgriStability and AgriRecovery. The government is “getting all the sectors of the ag community together to talk about how we can make (the programs) work better so that we can make sure, … when things are happening that are beyond our control, there’s government support there.”
And the ministry wants to ensure that its programs are “user-friendly, so that (Ontarians) don’t have to spend days or weeks filling out applications,” Hardeman said. The government may have information on file from a previous application, for example, which could perhaps be used to streamline some application processes, he added.
In terms of mental health supports, “we are working with the ag community … to come up with solutions to the problems. The number one issue is how do we get the people who need the assistance to contact someone to ask for help,” Hardeman said.
“Our job is to make sure we get the message out that there are places they can call and the people are there to help them through the challenges they face. We’re all in this together,” Hardeman added.
“Rural and small-town Ontario have certain requirements that are different than the large urban centres – primarily in terms of how to … get into the system,” he said. So, he is working with Christine Elliott, the provincial minister of health and long-term care, to ensure that “we can provide (the necessary) service in rural Ontario.”