Bibeau announces funding, but offers little on standing issues

The federal agriculture minister spoke briefly last week in Winnipeg

The federal agriculture minister told CropConnect attendees about two new programs last week, but had little new to say on long-standing producer concerns.

Marie-Claude Bibeau was at the annual event to meet with Manitoba farmers and while there announced a total of $1.2 million in funding for the grain industry. Most of the money is earmarked for the development of a new ‘code of practice’ for Canadian grain producers, as well as a new pilot insurance program designed to help eliminate risks when exporting to foreign countries.

“Some of our trading partners don’t give as much credit to this rule-based trade approach, but I think we have to stand strong and this is why we have to face the new reality and find innovative ways to support our producers and this pilot insurance program is one way to support them,” she said.

Speaking at the same podium following the minister’s remarks, Rick White, Canada Grains Council vice-chair and Canadian Canola Growers Association CEO, applauded the announcement.

“The development of a defined code of practice will help grain farmers tell the good story of agriculture in Canada,” he said. “We have a very good story to tell.”

He noted Canadian producers have amongst the most sustainable production practices in the world, something consumers should know about.

Status quo on carbon

Farmers have been lobbying Bibeau for action on the carbon tax file, particularly extending exemptions to include fuel used to dry grain.

However, Bibeau had little new to say on the topic either during her prepared remarks, or during a scrum with reporters at the meeting’s sidelines.

“I definitely recognize that 2019 was a very difficult year for our farmers because of the weather and because of trade and train disruptions,” Bibeau said to reporters. “I am working with my colleagues including the environment minister to find the best ways to support our farmers. But we still have some work to do to see how we can proceed.”

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Bibeau has questioned whether the carbon pricing system is disadvantaging farmers, but also said she will continue to seek out more information on the program’s effects on farms.

Manitoba producers say they’re taxed an extra $1.7 million related to the costs of drying their grain and heating their barns and buildings.

Bibeau also told reporters of a program in Alberta where the federal and provincial governments have embarked on a new program to “… support farmers who want to make new investments towards technologies that are more efficient, in terms of energy, for their grain drying.”

Bibeau also noted that if Manitoba wanted a similar program, the initiative would originate with the province.

“This is the way the CAP (Canadian Agricultural Policy) funds work,” she said.

Risk management

Bibeau also touched on earlier changes to business risk management programs during her prepared remarks. She noted that the federal and provincial governments had collaborated on an increase in AgriStability interim payments to drought-affected cattle producers, raising it to 75 per cent.

During the media scrum, however, the questions were about long-standing calls for the program to be generally strengthened.

Last month the Canadian Federation of Agriculture penned a strongly worded letter detailing its disappointment “… with the lack of clear progress towards meaningful reforms of the BRM suite and frustrated with the lack of urgency in responding to the immediate challenges confronting Canadian producers.”

A ‘comprehensive review’ of BRM programs has been underway for nearly three years. AgriStability coverage and reference margin levels have been at the heart of the discussion between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, but no tangible results have resulted.

Bibeau said she’d got the message “loud and clear” that producers would like to see business risk management programs, and particularly AgriStability be made “more generous” and “better adapted to new kinds of risk.” But she also noted that call is not hers alone to make.

“These programs are mainly partnerships between the provinces and federal government,” she said.

She says the various governments have instructed officials to come back to them in April with further information on whether the programs are functioning as they are supposed to, and where the gaps may be.

Bibeau added that will put the ministers in the position to make decisions at a planned July meeting.

“It’s our objective to have more concrete improvements to the program by July,” she said.

About the author

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Gord Gilmour

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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