The floor is open for producers to let the province know what they want to see change on forage insurance.
The government has launched the first steps of its promised review of forage insurance programs in Manitoba. An online survey is now open at engagemb.ca or available at six Agriculture and Resource Development offices across the province. Kiosks for in-person surveys have been set up at the department’s offices in Vita, Carberry, Virden, Swan River, Roblin and The Pas.
Why it matters: Farmers have argued that forage insurance needs better consideration for feeds that are not alfalfa, and they’re hoping the promised forage insurance review might help.
“Manitoba forage producers have had back-to-back challenging production years and only a small proportion of forage acres are insured when compared to annual crops,” Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen said.
“To bridge that gap, we need to better understand the risks, challenges and effectiveness of the current program to help ensure it meets their needs over the longer term.”
The province promised a review of forage insurance last summer, in the midst of yet another poor hay year.
According to Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC), only 1,200 hay policies were sold in 2018, although the corporation warned that number might not capture all forage-related programs.
In January, Pedersen once again stressed the incoming forage review during a crop insurance update at Ag Days 2020.
The Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) is urging its members to take the survey even if they have not previously purchased forage insurance, as the survey hopes to gauge reasons why producers may shy away from those programs.
“This is very important because of the fact that our provincial government has made it very clear in the last two years; it will not do ad hoc programs like AgriRecovery and it is encouraging producers to take out business risk management,” Dianne Riding, MBP president, said.
The province was notably reluctant to consider AgriRecovery in late 2019, despite a push from regions preparing for a feed shortage.
In October 2019, then agriculture minister Ralph Eichler said he was no longer considering AgriRecovery, a sentiment echoed by his successor, Pedersen, in November.
“I know there’s been calls for freight subsidy,” Pedersen said during a meeting of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities at that time, but argued that such a program would simply trickle costs down to the producer and increase the price of hay.
Not every aspect of hay insurance needs an overhaul, Riding said. Select hay insurance, for example, has worked well for producers, she argued. It is Riding’s hope, however, that the insurance review will recommend better programs when looking outside alfalfa.
Riding noted growing interest in greenfeed, polycrops and silage, all practices she says are on the rise with beef producers in Manitoba, but are not properly reflected in forage insurance.
Some of those sources have gained even more traction in the last several years, given low hay harvests. In both 2018 and 2019, the province encouraged producers to look for sources like greenfeed, once it became clear that hay harvests for the year would be insufficient. Producers also reported increasing their silage and greenfeed acres last spring as a buffer against hay shortfalls.
“There is all kinds of different feed out there which can be used for cattle and we would like to see that covered accordingly,” Riding said.
The conversation also dovetails with calls for an individual productivity index (IPI) for corn silage, something MBP has pushed for years.
Beef producers have argued that crops with much lower acreage than corn silage have an available IPI, while more and more producers are turning to corn silage.
Riding says a corn silage IPI has featured in her organization’s talks with MASC, but added that those programs are likely a few years away.
Producers have also had trouble justifying insurance on more marginal native hay land, Riding admitted.
In November 2019, Mayor Robert Brunel of Ste. Rose du Lac argued that the variability on that marginal land makes it difficult to properly benchmark for insurance. Riding agreed with his assessment, calling marginal hay land “challenging.”
Current forage insurance has been more focused on alfalfa, a crop that MASC already has readily available data for, Riding argued.
“The hope is that they will somehow take into consideration all the other crops that are out there,” Riding said. “And I understand where folks are coming from when they say that it’s not working for them because of the native grasses and the native pasture and they (MASC) don’t have the metrics to measure that at this point.”
The province has also promised a series of in-person consultations in March as part of the review. Details of those meetings had yet to be released as of print deadline.