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Farm support programs undergo changes

But some farm leaders say more is needed

Growing Forward 2 will transform into the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) next year with some changes to the existing Business Risk Management (BRM) programs, the federal and provincial agriculture ministers agreed at their annual summer meeting July 19-21.

The ministers also agreed to calls from farm groups for a full review of the BRM programs to be reported on at the ministers’ annual summer meeting next year. Few details on how the review will be conducted were released but the AgGrowth Coalition said it hopes that farm groups “will be actively involved in a process that is both comprehensive and timely to ensure risk management programs are effective for Canadian farmers.”

CAP will have the same five-year timeline and $3-billion funding as Growing Forward 2, or the Agriculture Policy Framework, as the Trudeau government prefers to call it.

Priority areas

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay told a news conference in St. John’s, Nfld. that the six priority areas include science, research, and innovation, markets and trade development, environmental sustainability and climate change, value-added agriculture and agri-food processing, public trust and risk management.

These are all topics that have been identified as key issues by farm organizations. MacAulay said CAP “will keep the agriculture sector on a solid footing while engaging food producers that were under-represented under the APF.”

The review will make BRM programs “simpler and more user friendly.”

The AgGrowth Coalition had pushed for the BRM review since January. It wanted the funding to be more responsive to farmer needs than under the existing programs.

The coalition, which includes the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Grain Growers of Canada, was also seeking more support for young farmers and new entrants into the industry.

MacAulay said the growth of the agri-food sector is a core priority of the government and BRM programs are important to the sector’s continued growth and ability to innovate and compete.

AgriStability review

Agriculture Canada said the review will assess the BRM programs’ effectiveness as well as their impact on growth and innovation.

“There will be an early focus on the ability of the programs to respond to market risk, with a specific focus on AgriStability,” the department says.

“An external expert panel including producers, academia and global experts will be engaged to provide input throughout the review. Broader industry engagement will also ensure an understanding of the nature of risk faced by the sector and the effectiveness of the programs.”

Options for changing the BRM programs “to improve timeliness, simplicity and predictability, and that are cost neutral” will be presented to the ministers next summer.

Among the BRM changes the ministers agreed to in St. John’s is a Reference Margin Limit cap of 70 per cent under AgriStability. Agriculture Canada said the move will ensure a more equitable level of support for all producers as well as improved access.

“The RML will continue to target assistance to significant income losses threatening the viability of producers’ farms and that are beyond their capacity to manage.”

Late entry

As well, governments will be able to allow producers to enter the AgriStability late in situations where there is a significant income decline and a gap in participation.

Under AgriInvest, the maximum Allowable Net Sales eligibility will be reduced to $1 million, down from $1.5 million to free up funding for AgriStability. Annual government matching contributions will be limited to $10,000 per AgriInvest account, down from $15,000.

Currently, there is approximately $2.2 billion in AgriInvest account balances, which provides producers with flexibility and quick access to funds to help manage their risks.

Keystone Agricultural Producers president Dan Mazier said the BRM changes in CAP are steps in the right direction but still inadequate. “This retweaking is definitely giving us an indication the government is willing to look at it and help manoeuvre around changing times in Canadian agriculture. That’s the positive side. But it’s definitely not enough though.

“If you have a really good program every farmer in Canada should be in it,” he said. “So they still have some issues. It’s not that much better on bankability and accountability and predictability. It’s the same old program and we can address that in a year’s time (following the BRM review). We’ve still got a long ways to go in revamping BRM programs.”

More change needed

The 70 per cent reference margin in AgriStability will bring the livestock sector, especially cow-calf producers, back into the program, Mazier said. “This measure is intended to allow governments to ensure all producers can access AgriStability support when a significant decrease in revenue threatens the viability of the farm, should provinces and territories choose to trigger it.” The late option is another sign AgriStability is flawed.”

CFA president Ron Bonnet said, “Farm groups are eager to learn how we can work with governments toward the long-term success of our industry, as envisioned in the 2017 Federal Budget and the federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth report. CFA has been calling for a National Food Policy as a means of mapping out a whole-of-government approach that would integrate and co-ordinate policies linked to food and agriculture.”

Other topics discussed by the ministers were developing a Pan-Canadian Regulatory Framework and endorsing the Plant and Animal Health Strategy for Canada. Indigenous agriculture in Canada and the development of a Food Policy for Canada were also addressed.

The other members of the coalition are the Canadian Canola Growers Association, Grain Farmers of Ontario, the National Sheep Network, and the Canadian Horticultural Council.

– With files from Allan Dawson

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