A proposal for AgriStability changes was one of a few key issues addressed at the annual FPT meeting
By Jackie Clark
Agriculture ministers from across Canada made progress on several key files in the ag portfolio at their annual federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) minister’s meeting, held virtually on Nov. 20 and 27. The federal government tabled a proposal to improve AgriStability, which provinces must consider and report back to achieve consensus.
“I speak for all ministers when I say we are united in our tremendous appreciation for Canadian farmers and food processors,” Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, said in a post-meeting press conference on Nov. 27.
The ministers discussed key issues such as continued efforts to prevent and prepare for African swine fever, beginning to develop the next Canadian Agricultural Partnership, continued relief in the face of COVID-19, and recent concerns around grocers increasing retailer fees on suppliers.
To respond to the issue of retailer fees, the ministers decided to form an FPT working group, co-chaired by Quebec and Ottawa.
“We all recognize that these fees recently imposed by some retailers are really worrying and we want to have further discussion and evaluate all the options that are in front of us both at the federal and provincial level,” Bibeau explained. “We will consult with experts in the industry, of course, and we want to identify the pros and cons of different approaches and find what should be the best action to be undertaken.”
However, the FPT ministers did not deliver definitive action on the big-ticket item of the meeting: business risk management reform. Instead, the feds brought forward a proposal for provincial governments to consider.
“Strong BRM programs ensure a strong agricultural sector, because they give farmers the confidence they need to grow and succeed while ensuring our food security,” Bibeau said. “Improving BRM programs, starting with AgriStability is a top priority for everyone around this table. Meaningful reform of BRM programs requires collaboration and consensus from all ministers.”
The Canadian government “is ready to step up with improvements to the BRM programs. As we all recognize, since AgriStability was cut in 2013, participation rates have declined to the point where it is clear that improvements are needed … as a starting point, our government is looking to remove the reference margin limit, and we are prepared to make additional, immediate enhancements to AgriStability that would apply retroactively to the 2020 year and ongoing,” she explained. “Furthermore to ensure greater coverage on losses and to ensure funding is targeted to those who are impacted the most, I also proposed that we find consensus to increase the compensation rate from 70 to 80 per cent.”
If all provinces make both changes to AgriStability, the federal government estimates that funding available to farmers would increase by more than 50 per cent.
“While I believe the compensation rate is the next best action to take, I am prepared to consider other options,” Bibeau added. The provincial governments are now taking time to reflect and respond to this proposal, and the federal government is seeking unanimous consensus.
Agricultural groups were quick to respond to this proposal with gratitude and calls for quick action from provinces.
“These programs have been under review for years, and Minister Bibeau is the first Minister to deliver real action on this issue since 2013 by putting forth this proposal,” said a Nov. 27 statement from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. “While the FPT statement released today demonstrates that some progress has been achieved - all levels of government need to come together and finalize an agreement over the coming weeks.”
Beef Farmers of Ontario called the FTP discussions “a step in the right direction” in a Nov. 28 statement.
“While BFO is disappointed that a firm commitment could not be reached on enhancements to the core suite of BRM programs, we are pleased by the progress that was made to ensure Canadian farmers are soon provided with additional risk management protection,” said the statement. However “It is imperative that changes being considered by FPT governments in the coming weeks includes a return of AgriStability payment triggers to 85%, as well as a long-overdue adjustment to operational payment caps.”
The Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) also asked for the FPT ministers to consider the 85% trigger in a statement released Nov. 27.
“While GGC recognizes the unique fiscal challenges faced by the provinces as they consider the next steps for this important business risk management program, we reiterate that agriculture is more than worth the investment in order to drive an economic recovery – and support the food security of Canadians,” the statement said.
Despite challenges facing the industry, Canada has seen an 8 per cent increase in agricultural exports this year, and the country is on track to meet the goal of $75 billion in export by 2025, Bibeau said at the press conference.
“Canada’s agriculture and food sector is the powerhouse of our economy, contributing more than $40 billion to GDP and responsible for one in eight jobs across Canada,” she said. “Our farmers and food businesses are positioned to be key drivers of Canada’s economic recovery.”
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