Ag groups in Ontario agree with Minister Hardeman that AgriStability needs to be improved to protect producers
By Jackie Clark
Ontario’s ag minister Ernie Hardeman released a joint statement with leadership from Grain Farmers of Ontario and Beef Farmers of Ontario calling on the Canadian government to address shortcomings in the AgriStability program.
“This has been a very difficult year, with farmers facing increased pressures due to COVID-19, and I stand with our farmers in calling for additional government support through the AgriStability program now,” he said in the Sept. 1 statement. “We are calling on the Government of Canada to immediately make the program enhancements needed for AgriStability to help farmers manage the many risks that are very much outside of their control.”
The province’s ag minister plays a key role in advocating for farmers at the federal level.
“Minister Hardeman is the co-chair of the national group of provincial ag ministers, and certainly this has been a topic of discussion at that table,” Keith Currie, president of the OFA, told Farms.com. “He’s been advocating to the federal minister for some time now.”
Ag organizations want the federal government to make “changes to AgriStability because it’s obviously not working the way it’s supposed to work. So, the fact that (Hardeman) is still pushing is not a surprise and we’re quite happy that he’s leading the charge,” Currie explained.
Hardeman lists two specific changes: removing the reference margin limit and lowering the margin-loss threshold needed to begin receiving payments.
Those changes would provide better coverage, encouraging more farmers to participate in the program, Currie explained.
“What’s happened is that the coverage levels are so low that people just aren’t enrolling in the program. And I think for the program to be effective, we do need that enrollment,” he said.
AgriStability is meant to be a tool to combat unforeseen factors that impact production, like severe weather, geopolitical tension, and even the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Currie explained. Those events are beyond the farmers’ control and can impact production and markets.
The ag industry needs “an adequate program there to help farmers out, to get them through those tough times,” he said. “Right now, because the program isn’t really beneficial to people … they just aren’t enrolling.”
In Quebec, some other government programs are contingent on registration in AgriStability. But if you disregard Quebec’s participation rate, only around 25 per cent of eligible farmers are enrolled in AgriStability, Currie said.
“People are still engaged in AgriInvest and crop insurance,” he added. Farmers are willing to participate in programs that would adequately protect them.
“The province of Ontario is putting up (its) share of the dollars,” he said. “The agri-food industry is a massive industry here in Ontario, the biggest one we have, the biggest economic driver, so the more that they can do to enhance and protect the industry and the primary producers, the better it’s going to be for the province as a whole.”
Minister Hardeman “has been very strong in advocating for those changes to be made and we certainly appreciate that,” Currie added.
This year, the effects of COVID-19 have hit different commodities to different degrees, in different ways. Agricultural producers need a federal program that protects all of them.
Producers would appreciate “knowing there is a program out there that will help to take care of you when there’s a downcycle, for whatever reason,” Currie said. “We need to really take a long hard look at this program.”
The federal government said they’d look at business risk management for agriculture after the last election, but “they’ve yet to really come to the table to do that,” he explained. Federal-provincial talks will take place in October, and “we’re going to push really hard to make sure that (AgriStability) is on the agenda.”