The Manitoba government has set aside $200,000 for a livestock insurance pilot program for the province’s cattle producers.
The allocation is hidden in the 2011-12 provincial budget brought down April 12 by Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk.
TheCo-operatorlearned about it during briefings by Treasury Board officials in a media lockup prior to Wowchuk’s budget speech in the legislature.
Wowchuk’s speech did not announce the program other than to say that the province is “working to develop a range of livestock insurance programs to support producers.”
But Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Stan Struthers later confirmed the allocation is included in a $6.87-million funding increase to the province’s AgriInsurance program.
Struthers said the $200,000 set-aside is the province’s share of a planned pilot project to insure cattle producers against sudden drops in market prices, similar to one operating in Alberta for several years.
FEDERAL CONTRIBUTION SOUGHT
He said Manitoba would like Ottawa to contribute another $300,000, based on a traditional 60:40 federal-provincial funding split, to make the program worth $500,000 in total.
The province is also open to co-operating with Alberta and Saskatchewan in a Prairie-wide cattle insurance program, said Struthers.
“Manitoba is willing to team up with anyone to offer especially a cow-calf insurance program.”
But if neither option works out, Manitoba will go it alone, he said.
“We think we can move forward with a plan based on the $200,000. We can enhance that pilot project if the federal government would be involved, too,” said Struthers.
“If we have to start in Manitoba, if we have to use the $200,000 on its own… then we’re going to do that.”
Struthers could not say when the pilot might be launched. Discussions with Ottawa are currently on hold during the federal election campaign.
But he said the province intends to resume negotiations immediately after the May 2 election results are known.
The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation will administer the program, as it does with all other farm production insurance programs.
Livestock production insurance is a priority for Manitoba’s cattle producers. Manitoba Beef Producers has lobbied tirelessly for it, demanding something to put cattle farmers on an equal footing with grain growers who have crop insurance.
MBP issued a statement following the budget expressing disappointment that the budget “failed to announce any specific insurance program for Manitoba’s struggling livestock sector.”
Struthers said he has had regular discussions with MBP about the plan and the group has offered suggestions about how it might work.
Other than the cattle insurance pilot, new agricultural initiatives were thin in Wowchuk’s second budget as finance minister and the last one before an Oct. 4 provincial election.
Agriculture spending estimates tabled in the legislature include $8 million for Manitoba’s share of a federal-provincial program to help small livestock producers expand manure storages in advance of a 2013 ban on spreading manure on fields in winter. That program was announced earlier this winter.
In all, the province plans to spend $228.3 million on agriculture in 2011-12, up 6.1 per cent from the previous year.
Cliff Graydon, opposition agriculture critic, called the lack of new programs “very, very disappointing.”
“Agriculture’s not one of the top things on their priority at all,” Graydon said.
Doug Chorney, Keystone Agricultural Producers president, was a bit more positive, noting an increase in the farmland school tax rebate from 75 per cent to 80 per cent.
The province is also extending its Odor Control Tax Credit from the end of this year to Dec. 31, 2014. Established in 2004 to reduce nuisance odours from organic waste, the program was extended to farmers in 2006.
Chorney called the announced expansion of the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie a good move.
He noted the province plans to fund 2,100 new child-care spaces and hoped some will be earmarked for rural Manitoba. KAP has long called for more rural child care. [email protected]
– STAN STRUTHERS