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Feds hope for Growing Forward deal this month

After two years of largely behind-the-scenes discussion, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz hopes to strike this month for a framework agreement with the provinces on the next version of Growing Forward.

In a news release, Ritz said a wide variety of views has been heard.

“Canadians have spoken on the future direction of agriculture and governments have listened,” said Ritz.

Not so, said Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Governments never formally engaged farm groups in discussions about the new programs, he said.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t support the government’s desire for more focus on market development and innovation,” said Bonnett. “But farmers still need to be backstopped through tough times.”

This summer’s drought in Ontario and Quebec is the kind of event that farmers need help with, just as flooding in Western Canada was in previous years, he said.

A key issue for farmers is what will trigger payments from AgriStability and AgriRecovery, he added. There have been suggestions payments wouldn’t be triggered unless a farmer’s income drops by 30 per cent — double the current 15 per cent.

The new programs, which would take effect in March and run to 2018, aim “to balance the risk between governments and producers while ensuring we are investing strategically to promote sector competitiveness,” said Ritz.

He said during the last two years, ministers, MPs, and government officials have met farmers, processors, distributors’ manufacturers, held public hearings and listened to ideas from groups such as the George Morris Centre and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.

Agriculture Canada said governments have spent $10 billion since 2007 on business risk management income supports. AgriStability accounted for 32 per cent of spending, Agri-Insurance 39 per cent, and AgriRecovery nine per cent.

The cross-country consultations generated consistent support for more investment in research and development, as well as on-farm innovation and commercialization, officials said.

As for the business risk management programs, some groups opposed significant change, but were willing to consider possible modifications.

There was also support for Ritz’s goal of improvements in insurance products, including private-sector insurance products for the livestock sector, which doesn’t get the same benefit from Agri-Insurance as crops do, they added.

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