Regional agriculture adaptation councils across Canada are losing their role as administrators of the federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) after March 2014, in a move by the federal government to centralize the program out of Ottawa.
The moved was flagged in federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2012 budget last month, which announced Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will consolidate delivery of all grants and contribution programs across the department.
National-level CAAP project funding, which is earmarked for adaptation and innovation project development, was delivered by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, while regional funding flowed through the councils.
The move effectively ends a nearly two-decades long relationship between the federal government and 14 regional councils representing every province and territory in Canada, including the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council, (MRAC) which formed in 1995.
A spokesperson for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) said the decision to consolidate and centralize the program’s administration was not about councils’ work but to reduce risk of project duplication, while providing greater consistency, monitoring and accountability of projects.
Adaptation council spokespersons across Canada called the move to abandon regional council delivery of future federal funding “disappointing news.”
Heather Broughton, chair of the Agriculture and Food Council of Alberta (AFC), said the government’s decision “will end an almost 20-year relationship between AFC and the federal government.” John Kikkert, chair of Ontario”s Agricultural Adaptation Council, said in a news release that regional adaptation councils have served the diversity of needs in agricultural and agri-food sectors across the country extremely well.
“Canada is a very large country with a very diverse agricultural industry from coast to coast,” Kikkert said. “Its regions and their agricultural and agri-food sectors across the country have very different needs.”
MRAC executive director Ted Eastley also expressed disappointment, saying there had been some indication change was coming, but the board never anticipated the move to centralize funding delivery.
“We’re disappointed that they would go that route,” he said. “And there is a definite impact. We’ve been able to react regionally and that’s been an integral part of the success that we’ve had.”
However, while this leaves MRAC and all other adaptation councils without CAAP funds to administer after March 2014, it most certainly does not spell the end of their regional council, Eastley said.
“It’s the end of CAAP funding as we know it,” he said. “It’s not the end of the council.”
Eastley said the challenge now is to move even more quickly on MRAC’s expanded mandate, which was announced at its March 22 annual general meeting. That includes plans to pursue other pockets of innovation funding beyond the agricultural portfolio.
There may also be opportunities to work more directly with industry to manage some of their innovation-directed funding, Eastley said.
“We’ve got two years to work on this and we’re thankful for that,” he said.
Since its inception MRAC has administered almost $30 million in funding towards about 700 innovation projects, approving funding for projects ranging from development of a soil spreader which operates similar to a snow blower for soil, to catalyzing advances in manure management, as well as riparian projects for sustainable management of waterways.
Meanwhile, the CAAP program remains open for two more years, with all current CAAP projects, project timelines and funding allocations unchanged up until March 2014.
Applications are still being accepted with the requirement that all approved projects be completed by October 2013.
Other regional councils affected include the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C., Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan, Quebec’s Conseil pour le developpement de l’agriculture du Quebec and Fonds de developpement de la transformation alimentaire, the New Brunswick Agricultural Council, Agri-Futures Nova Scotia, the P.E.I. ADAPT Council, the Newfoundland and Labrador Agri-Adapt Council, the Territorial Farmers Association, Yukon Agricultural Association and Nunavut Harvesters’ Association.