The Manitoba government is exploring whether it can expand crop insurance coverage for corn and soybeans to more parts of the province, Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn told farmers at Ag Days Jan. 15.
“I want to assure the audience today our department is in the process of investigating expanding potential areas for coverage, but we’re not in a position to truly designate that at this point in time,” he said.
Both crops are gaining in popularity among Manitoba farmers. They insured a record 836,000 acres of soybeans in 2012, now Manitoba’s third-largest acreage crop behind canola and wheat, according to Manitoba Agricultural Service Corporation data.
Industry observers say if spring conditions are favourable, producers could seed a million acres of soybeans this spring.
There was a record 258,053 acres of grain corn insured in Manitoba in 2012, breaking the previous record of 225,000 in 1981.
Both corn and soybeans are heat-loving crops and coverage currently isn’t available in some of the cooler parts of agro-Manitoba. But seed companies continue to offer earlier-maturing varieties.
In 2012 corn, still considered a bit of a special crop, ranked sixth in acreage behind canola, wheat, soybeans, barley and oats.
The so-called “six major grains and oilseeds” once included rye and flax, but they’ve been pushed out by soybeans and corn.
Since May 2011, more than $33 million was paid in compensation for lost crops, hay and emergency flood mitigation in the Lake Manitoba flood zone, Kostyshyn said. Some of the affected farmers say their pastures and hay land still haven’t recovered and more aid is needed.
“We’re well aware of the circumstances in the flooded areas (around) Lake Manitoba,” Kostyshyn later told reporters, adding the province is discussing the possibility of additional support with the federal government.
Speaking to reporters the next day, Progressive Conservative Opposition Leader Brian Pallister complained fewer than half the Lake Manitoba flood compensation claims have been settled.
“That’s just not acceptable,” Pallister said. “Governments are there to protect people when they are vulnerable and when they need help and this is exactly what these flood-affected people in these areas deserve to get.”
Since June 2012, $8.5 million has been paid to flooded farmers for forage restoration, Kostyshyn said.
He also announced MASC’s pilot pasture insurance program, which began in 2012 with 50 farmers, has been expanded to two crop insurance offices covering 90 farmers.
Farmers, who can already insure open-pollinated corn for grain production, will be able to get silage insurance starting this year.
Crop insurance will continue to be a major focus under the new federal-provincial Growing Forward II program, Kostyshyn said. Up to $20 million a year will be spent to develop new insurance schemes, including those delivered by the private sector to protect farmers from weather disasters and price volatility.
“We’re sure hoping by 2014 there would be something in place (for livestock price insurance),” Kostyshyn said later.
The minister also said the four western provinces are co-operating to develop a meat inspection program for provincially regulated abattoirs. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which has been doing the inspections under contract, will no longer provide the service starting in 2014.
It will not allow provincially inspected plants to export meat interprovincially or internationally. However, a provincial official said there’s a pilot project underway to bring certain provincially inspected plants up to federal standards so meat can move freely between provinces.
Increased trade, not only of raw production, but processed food, continues to be a Manitoba government goal, but Kostyshyn added the province strongly supports supply management.
Agriculture, which accounts for 8.2 per cent of Manitoba’s Gross Domestic product, generates $3.6 billion annually in production revenue, creating 54,000 jobs, is important to the province’s economy, Kostyshyn said.
Manitoba has more than 1.2 million people — 30 per cent of them rural — with the annual growth rate exceeding the national average three years in a row, he said. Between 2001 and 2006 Manitoba’s rural population grew faster than in urban areas.
“Food is still the No. 1 demand in the world and we are somewhat blessed in this province to have the real estate, the entrepreneurs, the young generation to make it happen,” Kostyshyn said.