Provinces’ feet held to fire on AgriStability

Ministers' meeting co-chairs push for progress to allow changes to be made retroactive for 2020

The co-chairs of Canada’s agriculture ministers’ meeting are pushing to get proposed improvements to AgriStability in place sooner than later.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and her Ontario counterpart, Ernie Hardeman, “urge all provincial and territorial ministers to support the proposed changes to the AgriStability program,” they said in a joint statement Tuesday.

At a Nov. 27 online meeting with her provincial and territorial counterparts, Bibeau proposed to remove AgriStability’s reference margin limit and to boost the compensation rate for when a payout is triggered to 80 per cent from 70.

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“Accepting the proposed changes soon is key to ensuring the enhanced supports can be applied retroactively to 2020, something we know farmers across the country have been asking for,” Bibeau and Hardeman said Tuesday.

“Since the federal government has confirmed its 60 per cent contribution, it rests with the undeclared provinces and territories to come forward with their 40 per cent share. We thank those provinces who have already confirmed their participation and hope to hear from those others soon.”

Manitoba’s Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen, who has suggested replacing AgriStability, is still studying Bibeau’s proposal, his office said via email Tuesday.

“Supporting the growth and resiliency of Manitoba’s agricultural sector is a priority” for the province’s ag department and government, the email said.

Bibeau’s plan follows years of complaints from Canadian farm groups that changes to AgriStability in 2013 dramatically cut support after the payout trigger went from an 85 per cent decline in eligible margins to 75 per cent.

Famers want the trigger restored and the reference margin limit removed, but see Bibeau’s plan as a good first step. Most farm groups, including Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers, endorse Bibeau’s proposal.

“Taken together this (proposal) would result in a 50 per cent increase, around $170 million per year in direct support to farmers who need it the most,” the joint statement said. “In order for these changes to be put in place, we need the support of a large majority of provinces and territories soon.”

While Pedersen is concerned the changes will make AgriStability more expensive for the Manitoba government, he has also said AgriStability has a lot of problems, including its complexity, unpredictability and the delay between when farmers suffer losses and receive payments.

“I think if you get rid of the reference margin limit and bring the coverage up to 80 per cent, yeah, it would certainly help,” KAP president Bill Campbell said in an interview Dec. 1.

“Those two things would make it so it has the potential to make it a feasible program for the ag industry.

“I think if some of the issues were addressed and fixed it wouldn’t necessarily be a broken program.”

After years as the target of farm lobbyists’ wrath, however, Ottawa is now holding the provinces’ feet to the fire on Bibeau’s proposal.

“For many years we have been consulting on improving the suite of business risk management programs and we agree that fixing AgriStability is the priority,” Tuesday’s joint statement said. “It needs to be simpler, fairer, more predictable and more generous.

“While the proposed changes to AgriStability may not be the perfect solution for all farmers or governments, they reflect a good start to achieving a national consensus and allow Canada’s agriculture ministers to continue discussing enhancements to the program while still improving supports for farmers today.”

The ministers “are all committed on more long-term changes to the suite of business risk management (BRM) programs as we begin consultations for the start of the next five-year policy framework, which begins in 2023,” Bibeau and Hardeman said.

“Improving the BRM programs is a top priority for our governments. Farmers have shown their resiliency during COVID-19; however, many could still use the added help that these short-term changes could provide. We have an opportunity to act now, to offer them increased support. It’s time to get it done.”

— Allan Dawson reports for the Manitoba Co-operator from Miami, Man.

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Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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