Anational program to help farmers affected by natural disasters faces a severe test from floods jeopardizing the entire 2010 western Canadian crop.
AgriRecovery is aimed at mitigating the effects of a disaster and helping producers resume business operations. The program is intended to fill gaps left by other programs such as AgriStability and crop insurance.
But farm leaders say AgriRecovery was never intended to deal with regional disasters such as the Prairie-wide flooding of cropland caused by extraordinary rains this spring.
“It will be a challenge for it,” said Ian Wishart, Keystone Agricultural Producers president. “It’s really not initially designed to deal with that. It was supposed to be smaller-scale or sectorial disaster.”
The damage caused by this year’s spring flooding is potentially massive. The Canadian Wheat Board estimates up to 12.5 million acres Prairie farmland will go unseeded this year because of wet conditions. The CWB projects the area sown to wheat in Western Canada will be the smallest since 1971. Barley acreage may be the lowest since 1965.
Politicians last week were pinning their hopes on AgriRecovery as the main vehicle to help flood-affected farmers. The program is funded 60-40 between Ottawa and the provinces.
“There is the potential to move into the AgriRecovery program under the federal-provincial agreement,” said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger following last week’s Western Premiers Conference in Vancouver.
Selinger and the other premiers called for a meeting between provincial agricultural ministers and federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to discuss flood aid for farmers.
“We believe that when we get the ministers together they will bring the knowledge and the desire to the table to help out and make a difference for farmers who are struggling this year,” Selinger said.
Up to now, AgriRecovery has mostly responded to local disasters, such as disease-related assistance to P. E. I. and Alberta potato producers.
Under AgriRecovery, Manitoba livestock producers in the Interlake and Westlake regions in 2009 received income tax deferrals and assistance to buy feed and reseed forage crops because of repeated overland flooding.
Recently, livestock producers in last year’s drought-stricken regions of Alberta and Saskatchewan received funding to buy feed while their pastures recover.
But the designers of AgriRecovery never envisioned a disaster encompassing the entire Prairie region, said Wishart.
“It was probably not designed with this in mind. They may be trying to make it do that.”
Ritz was quoted last week as saying he might consider options under AgriRecovery.
Wishart said one possibility might be a program to seed cover crops after flooded fields dry up this summer. PFRA used to have a standing program for farmers to seed cover crops to prevent soil erosion. It was eliminated in 2008.
Whatever happens, AgriRecovery may be farmers’ only hope to get back on their feet, said Wishart.
“We don’t have any other mechanism,” he said. “They keep saying no ad hoc (programs), so we have to use existing programs.” [email protected]