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BRM Programs Don’t Help Enough Farmers, Crews Tells Minister

The concern is with power companies setting up on land and trying to claim they’re a farm.

Bette Jean Crews, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, isn’t buying an attempt by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to buff the image of government supports for struggling farmers.

Answering questions after a chatty address to the annual meet ing of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture Feb. 22, Ritz acknowledged that Canadian farmers are struggling but 80 per cent are satisfied with the AgriStability program and other supports.

He was responding to Crews who asked him to consider provincial companion programs such as the OFA has developed with the provincial government to help pork, beef and horticulture farmers who find AgriStability neither bankable nor predictable.

CRISIS

Those producers face a severe crisis caused “by outside influences that they can’t control and they cannot wait three years for the next round of programming,” she says. Immediate changes are needed to AgriStability.

Ritz says Ottawa and the provinces need to address the problems in the program that 20 per cent of farmers face. However, there’s “no consensus at any level to move forward with major changes. We will work within the program parameters that are there.” The government isn’t considering using AgriFlexibility for business-risk management because it is driving innovation.

Ottawa will offer a 90 per cent guarantee on loans to pork farmers “so the banks have no reason not to loan the money,” he said. “But it’s going to take farmers going in to actually trigger those loans and make things work.”

Crews said later the minister clearly isn’t prepared to admit that far more than 20 per cent of farmers aren’t happy with government supports. She said farm groups will have to keep working on their message to federal and provincial politicians about the need for more support especially the kind of program that’s been put together in Ontario.

She realized that Ottawa is anxious about how it spends money these days but farm groups can’t afford to see more producers forced out of business.

NEW ENERGY LOANS

During his remarks, Ritz announced Farm Credit Corp. will start a new lending program for farmers wishing to develop renewable energy sources as part of their operations, either for their own use or sale to provincial energy grids.

Ron Bonnett, CFA first vice-president, welcomed the initiative but urged FCC president and CEO Greg Stewart to make sure farmers who have bouts of low returns from their livestock or crops aren’t prevented from tapping into the program.

He was concerned about possible rules that would tie FCC assistance under the Energy Loan program to the revenue of the farm. “There could be times when we would make more from green energy programs than from our farm production. You should look at it as a way to stabilize farm income. In livestock today, it wouldn’t be hard to earn more from energy production.”

Stewart said the program won’t allow loans to energy companies. But FCC would certainly consider any proposals for on-farm alternate energy production if selling power propped up a farm’s income prospects.

In an interview later, he said FCC “would show flexibility. We’re not worried about one bad year when livestock or crop sales were below what the farm earned from electricity sales.”

The concern is with power companies setting up on land and trying to claim they’re a farm.

A recent FCC survey shows 60 per cent of producers are considering new ways to make money while reducing their environmental impact. Nearly a third are considering the use of renewable energy sources in their operation.

The program becomes available March 1 and will help producers purchase and install on-farm energy sources like biogas, geothermal, wind or solar power. It offers an interest term of up to five years at variable or fixed rates and with monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual payments available.

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