Feds seek ideas for Growing Forward 3

A new website from the federal Agriculture Department gives growers a chance to have their say on farm programs

Now’s your chance to tell the federal government how farm policy should look in Canada.

The federal Agriculture Department has set up a website to seek feedback on what is and isn’t working in Growing Forward 2 (GF2) and what should be in Growing Forward 3 (GF3).

In a statement, Lawrence MacAulay, the federal agriculture minister, said farm groups and individuals can use the conduit to get information to policy-makers as the drive to design the new program kicks into high gear.

The department will be conducting additional consultation activities in the coming months on Growing Forward, which is the main agriculture support program offered by Ottawa and the provinces.

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GF2 focused on innovation, competitiveness and market development to equip producers and pro-cessors for gaining new domestic and export markets. It offers a suite of business risk management programs including AgriInvest, AgriStability, AgriInsurance and AgriRecovery.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has already released a detailed document pointing out problems with GF2 and corrective actions needed in the next program. The CFA board is holding a discussion with MacAulay on the issue this week, said Ron Bonnett, CFA’s president.

Gary Stanford, president of Grain Growers of Canada, said GF3 is “a top priority” and getting them right will ensure the new programs benefit farmers and agriculture in the future.

“We will continue to work with other farm organizations, with ministers and with the staff at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to ensure that farmers’ needs are fully provided for,” Stanford said.

In a policy paper developed for discussion with other farm groups, CFA says GF3 should create a policy environment that will enable increased investment in the sector, promote climate change adaptation and positions Canada as a global “first choice” for safe and high-quality food. The group says doing so will contribute to the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry in Canada.

The specific CFA recommendations touch on climate change, sustainability, incentives for adopting best practices, increased research, information and technology transfer to producers and processors and improving farm safety.

It also calls for the development of a national food policy that promotes Canadian products, something the government says is in the works already. CFA also wants increased investments in rural infrastructure.

Risk management

CFA is concerned that farmers have dropped out of the BRM programs because they’ve lost confidence sufficient financial help will be provided when needed. It notes farmer participation in the overall suite of programs has dropped from 119,121 producers in 2007 to 73,607 in 2013. The 2014 and 2015 numbers aren’t complete.

“The decline will be worse in 2015,” Scott Ross, the CFA’s director of Business Risk Management and Farm Policy, said in an interview.

“Our concern is that people are dropping out because the program lacks credibility.”

When funds are available, they are too often inadequate to the financial challenge facing farmers.

Participation in AgriStability, which shores up incomes in periods of low market prices, dropped from 57 per cent in 2007 to 42 per cent in 2012 and has continued to fall since. AgriInvest and AgriRecovery have seen similar drops.

The CFA is preparing proposals to present to federal and provincial officials as part of the Growing Forward 3 negotiations set to start this year, prior to the expiration of Growing Forward 2 in 2018.

The CFA proposals envision AgriInvest as a strategic investment fund that farmers and governments would contribute with annual contribution limits of $100,000. Farmers could make tax-free withdrawals from it in poor years.

With climate change expected to impair future farm production, it’s important to make sure AgriRecovery can cover multi-year disaster costs, the CFA briefing document says.

“Climate change will bring more extreme weather events and AgriRecovery is not designed for long-term problems,” Ross noted.

The next iteration of BRM programs also needs to provide additional assistance to beginning farmers, who face the greatest expense burden, CFA says.

As well, it needs to change rules that reduce the support for a diversified farm producing a variety of commodities compared to a farm that produces fewer.

Diversified farms, producing and marketing non-supply-managed commodities, have been found to more likely cease AgriStability program participation, compared to more specialized non-supply-managed farms.

This sets up a dynamic where industry may call for commodity-specific programming, but whole-farm programming is more trade friendly.

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