The debate between producers and government about the future look of Canada’s farm safety net programs is about to heat up, says the head of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
Farmers want support payments to reflect their production costs. But Ottawa and the provinces are balking, said Ron Bonnett, CFA president.
As a result, upcoming consultations on the future of business risk management (BRM) programs will be contentious, Bonnett predicted.
“There has been reluctance to look at any new types of programs,” he said after speaking to the recent Keystone Agricultural Producers annual meeting in Winnipeg.
“I think we’re going to get into a pretty lively debate in the next few months about where BRMs are going to be.”
The current five-year federal-provincial Growing Forward agreement, which includes BRMs, expires March 31, 2013. A BRM review currently underway will be central to a new agreement. Formal negotiations will start when the review is complete.
Bonnett said CFA supports a BRM cost-of-production model. KAP has developed its own proposed model, as has the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
But federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has so far been silent about the idea and the provinces are all over the map on it. Some want to consider COP while others say no, Bonnett said.
It’s now up to farm groups to get their provincial governments on side, he said.
“It’s dead in the water if we don’t get provincial ministers to put pressure on the federal government.”
But Bonnett worried governments saddled with budget deficits will see a COP model as too expensive.
“Especially when you’ve got the federal government and provincial governments looking at deficits, I think they’re really nervous to enter into anything else that might cost more money.”
As a result, new BRM programs may end up looking much like the present ones, said Bonnett. “I wouldn’t be surprised that likely is where they are headed and I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if it’s driven strictly by budgetary concerns.”
James Rude, an associate professor of agricultural economics at the University of Alberta, presented the same likelihood at a recent University of Manitoba seminar, saying the current structure will prove too hard to change. See story page 2.
Bonnett said there’s general agreement that the current BRMs don’t always react to problems the way they should and changes are needed.
The AgriRecovery disaster assistance program responded quickly to Prairie grain farmers this summer after heavy rains caused widespread damage to seeded and unseeded cropland. But Manitoba cattle producers also affected by flooding had to wait months for program aid, Bonnett said.
Farmers frequently criticize as AgriStability as cumbersome, slow to pay out and inadequate to deal with chronically depressed market prices.
A BRM which reflects a farmer’s cost of production needn’t be more expensive than current programs, said Bonnett.
He suggested provinces could receive an “envelope” of funds to design programs based on their own needs, similar to the companion programs under the former Agricultural Policy Framework. A COP-type program in one area could lower costs in other areas, he said.
Bonnett said governments need to separate the BRM debate from other areas of Growing Forward: environment, research, investment and so on.
But BRMs are “the elephant in the room” which always dominate the discussion, he said. [email protected]
– Ron Bonnett, Cfa