The AgGrowth Coalition joins a wide range of industry groups in calling on the government for immediate changes
By Jackie Clark
An alliance of prominent ag groups from across Canada is calling on federal, provincial, and territorial ag ministers to immediately revise national Business Risk Management (BRM) programs to better protect farmers.
Industry groups and other farmer-based organizations are almost universally united in asking to return “AgriStability coverage to cover losses starting at 85 per cent of historical reference margins with no reference margin limits,” said the Oct. 21 release from the AgGrowth Coalition.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), Canadian Canola Growers Association, Grain Growers of Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, the National Sheep Network, and the Canadian Horticultural Council are members of the AgGrowth Coalition. The group advocates for BRM reform on behalf of farmers.
“There’s no doubt that it would have a huge impact if we reinstituted both of those recommendations,” Chris van den Heuvel, second vice-president of CFA, told Farms.com. “Those were the historic levels. Then, about ten years ago, … the (government) put those restrictions in place. (Officials) lowered the trigger from 85 to 70 (per cent) and then put the reference margin limit on there.”
The government applied those restrictions “for a cost-savings measure and it was done at a time when agriculture was doing relatively well,” he explained. “Now that we’re into successive years where we’ve had some harsh impacts on agriculture from trade and weather perspectives, as well as from railway disputes … and, of course, you add the pandemic on top of that, there are a lot of farmers who are in pretty tight spots right now – pretty tough situations.”
If the governments enacted those two changes to AgriStability, that “would make a big difference,” van den Heuvel added.
Many prominent groups across the agricultural industry are calling for this change, and certain provincial ag ministers, such as Ontario’s Ernie Hardeman, have expressed their support. However, farmers still await government action.
Several reasons for the delay exist.
“First off, we’re really trying to change these programs mid-cycle. We’re in the middle of five-year Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding, so that makes it a little bit more difficult to change things mid-stream,” van den Heuval explained. This change would require buy in from all provinces, as well as the federal government.
Provincial and federal governments “have to be willing to (make changes) at the same time because these programs are 60/40 cost share,” he added. Some provinces might be in stronger fiscal positions to afford the change than others.
“There’s a lot at play there and it makes it difficult to negotiate,” van den Heuval said.
The CFA and other members of the ag industry are “certainty very appreciative of all the support our (federal) minister of agriculture has given us to date. But she really needs the backing of the rest of the cabinet ministers and the rest of the Liberal government to institute the changes we feel are necessary,” van den Heuvel said.
AgGrowth calls for those changes to happen as soon as possible to help farmers in the short term, starting in 2020, and to protect farmers over the next two years of this round of funding.
In the longer term, ag groups are investigating other possibilities to improve BRM.
“Some of the other tweaks that we would look at, perhaps, for the next round of funding might be changes around the AgriInsurance program to allow more coverage around livestock and a broader depth of coverage around certain crops and certain commodities that don’t have coverage right now,” van den Heuvel explained. Those areas include producers who grow mushrooms, and the greenhouse and horticultural sectors.
But the changes to AgriStability can’t wait.
“The time for dialogue, consultation and study has long passed; it is time that our federal and provincial ministers of agriculture take action,” Jeff Nielsen, co-chair of the AGgrowth Coalition, said in the statement. “Farmers have waited long enough and cannot afford continued uncertainty. We need the changes to be made in 2020.”
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