Everybody complains about the weather, the old saying goes, but nobody does anything about it.
Well, Manitoba’s Agriculture Risk Management Review Task Force can’t fix the weather, but it wants to hear Manitoba farmers’ ideas for mitigating its impact.
“We’re hoping there will be some real thinking out of the box by people on the ground who have faced all these dramatic instances,” task force chair Bill Uruski said in an interview July 3. “They may have some thoughts on what might be alternatives to what is already available in the Business Risk Management box of federal-provincial programming.”
That could include structural changes such as building water storage or improving drainage, added Uruski, a former Manitoba minister of agriculture who farms at Fisher Branch.
The six-member task force was announced by Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn in January. It will brief Kostyshyn before he attends the annual agriculture ministers’ meeting later this month, deliver an interim report in September and a final report with recommendations and options by year’s end.
In May and June the task force met with various farm and commodity groups, including the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), Uruski said.
“We have met with some technical people,” he said. “We have met with some federal and provincial people dealing with climate change to get a sense of what technical advice and information is out there.”
There will be seven public meetings across the province starting in Melita July 9.
“The task force… is making good progress and we now want to hear directly from those most affected by agricultural risk management programs and climate-related challenges,” Kostyshyn said in a news release. “This is important work that will guide our government’s direction in the years to come and the task force provides the best platform to hold discussions with industry stakeholders and the public.”
Excessive moisture, especially in the spring, has hit different parts of Manitoba over the last 10 years. The Interlake region was wet from 2005 until 2011, while the southwest, traditionally drought prone, has been plagued by downpours for almost as long. This year the northwest region is dry.
Last year almost a million Manitoba acres were too wet to seed, while thousands of acres of crop were damaged by excessive moisture.
But it was even worse in 2011 when major flooding occurred along the Assiniboine River. A record 3.1 million acres of land — almost a third of the acres normally planted to annual crops — were not seeded because it was too wet.
Many farmers received aid through the federal-provincial AgriRecovery program, but it’s intended to be a “short-term gap… to address unique events or a bridge until recovery provisions are incorporated into core programs,” Scott Stothers, Manitoba Agriculture and Rural Development’s acting director of policy development and analysis said in an interview.
KAP and the Manitoba government were unable to convince the federal government to trigger AgriRecovery to help farmers last year.
Farmers could get coverage under the Excess Moisture Insurance program, but then KAP president Doug Chorney noted that after several years of claims farmers’ coverage fell and premiums went up.
Moreover, coverage under the AgriStability program was cut dramatically April 1, 2013. One KAP member who saw his income reduced due to flooding in 2011 would have received 50 per cent less money had the AgriStability changes been in place then, based on calculations made by a reputable accounting firm, Chorney said.
Chorney, who farms at East Selkirk, is a task force member.
The federal government has also changed its disaster aid rules for provinces and municipalities, requiring both to spend more before making its contributions, Uruski said.
“The signal coming out of Ottawa is that ad hoc assistance is not on the table or at least it’s being discouraged,” he said.
“That places an extreme burden on provinces and municipalities trying to deal with programming that’s very difficult to afford at the local level. It has to be a partnership approach that includes all three levels of government as well as farmers and local residents affected by some of those extreme weather circumstances.
“My thinking is if there is going to be anything that we can recommend it has to involve the federal government over the long term… not unlike the FRED (Fund for Rural Economic Development) and ARDA (Agricultural Resource Development Agency) programs that occurred in the late ’60s and early ’70s in the Interlake. There were major, major investments that did improve much of the infrastructure required for the farming community and others to utilize the land base resources that were there.”
The task force’s public meetings will be facilitated through “roundtable” discussions. A website will soon be launched so farmers can get information on making written submissions. A survey will also be available for farmers to fill out and email in.
“Our first meeting is (July 9) in Melita,” Uruski said. “That is one of the hardest-hit areas over the last couple of weeks. It seems like every time there is a shower that area of the province is being deluged. It will be interesting to hear first hand what local people and farmers may have to say.”
The consultations are timely given existing farm support programs fall under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial agreement that expires April 1, 2018 and is expected to be replaced by a new agreement.
The task force members are:
- Bill Uruski, chair, former minister of agriculture and farmer from Fisher Branch.
- Doug Chorney, KAP past president and farmer from East Selkirk.
- Frieda Krpan, chair, Manitoba Agriculture Services Corporation and farmer from St. Laurent.
- John DeVos, a farmer from Fork River.
- Goldwyn Jones, a farmer from Tilston.
- Derek Brewin, agricultural economist at the University of Manitoba.