Prairie farm organizations fear major cuts to agriculture spending in the upcoming federal budget.
A projected $418.6-million decrease in net Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spending for the coming year has farm groups worried the March 22 budget will contain bad news for western Canadian farmers.
“It’s the wrong time to be backing away from agriculture program funding,” said Doug Chorney, Keystone Agricultural Producers president.
The federal Conservative government recently tabled its main 2011-12 spending estimates in the House of Commons.
The estimates predict total expenditures on agriculture of $2.6 billion, down 14 per cent from previous main estimates.
Decreases in operating costs, capital spending, grants and program payments are cited as reasons for the lower figure.
Expected spending on business risk management is down by some $250 million, while agricultural research spending is off by roughly $150 million.
Humphrey Banack, president of Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, said he hoped the figures do not signal AAFC is being targeted.
“I think any department will be looking at cuts. We want to make sure that cuts are fair across the board and agriculture doesn’t take a bigger cut than other areas,” Banack said.
Greg Marshall, Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan president , said cuts to agriculture would come at a time when the industry can least afford them.
Widespread flooding from heavy rains across Western Canada last summer dampened crop yields and quality. The livestock industry, especially the hog sector, is only starting to recover after several years of depressed prices.
Marshall said he hoped Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget speech will consider those things.
“I’m hoping he will put a great deal of emphasis on agriculture. We need to feed the world. It’s all about the production of food.”
The Liberal opposition accused the Harper government of a deliberate policy to cut farm support programs.
“They are trying to balance their budget on the backs of Canadian farmers,” Liberal Agriculture Critic Wayne Easter said in a statement.
AAFC officials called Easter’s claims inaccurate.
Main estimates only project what the government plans to spend in the coming fiscal year and are always subject to change as needs arise, officials said.
Changes in spending are reflected in three rounds of supplementary estimates over the course of the year.
Officials said the $250-million drop in BRM spending reflects less expected demand for AgriRecovery disaster relief, following last year’s $450-million aid package to flooded western farmers.
Estimated spending for AgriInvest is also lower because it’s uncertain at this point how many new producers will sign up for the program and what withdrawals they will make.
Spending for the advance payments program is also down because repayment stays of default for hog and cattle producers have been extended to 2012 and 2013 respectively. The federal government guarantees APP repayments to lending institutions if producers default on them. Because of the extensions, Ottawa is budgeting for fewer defaults in 2011-12.
Officials stressed all these figures could change because BRMs are demand driven. More money will be there if needed.
Officials said agriculture research spending will be lower this year because the government’s economic stimulus program, which helped pay for laboratories and other capital investments, has ended. Some other research programs have also run out, while still others have been extended over the next two years. [email protected]
“It’sthewrongtime tobebackingaway fromagriculture programfunding.”
– DOUG CHORNEY, KAP