Few details as online risk management tool AgriShield is announced

The federal government has thrown support behind a newly announced online risk management tool, 
but the project has only been described in general terms as development gets underway

Farm Management Canada hopes to see the online risk management tool AgriShield up and running by April 2018.

The group recently announced it was developing the platform to help farmers determine what risks their operations face and how they can take steps to prevent damage and loss.

Heather Watson, Farm Management Canada executive director, expects the pilot will likely be released to industry for a year before the tool’s full-scale launch.

“We’re seeing that risk management is something that has been brought to the forefront, especially with the BRM programs,” she said.

The phrase ‘business risk management’ is starting to become a readily understood concept in the business, Watson said. It’s good to see that higher profile, but fundamentally that’s come to mean financial risk, while a whole host of other risks are also ever present.

“We find that oftentimes that crowds out other opportunities for risk management and assessing different types of risk on your farm,” Watson said.

The tool, she stressed, will not be limited to insurance programming, something she says conversation around risk management often becomes stuck on.

The federal government has said the program will include real-time assessment of risk impact, as well as possible means to mitigate risks such as pests, disease or environment.

Watson, however, has said the program may go deeper than common agricultural or financial risks and may include aspects of work-life balance, family dynamics and diversification strategies.

“It’s identifying the risks that are pertinent to your farm from a comprehensive basis and then having a mechanism to assess those risks based on, how frequently would this happen? How severe would it be if it did happen and am I prepared for it? And then from there you’re able to prioritize, ‘OK, here are the things I want to put in my work plan this year for the risks that I’m going to start managing or manage better,’ or things like that,” she said.

Work began on the program in the last financial quarter and is still preliminary, Watson said. Farm Management Canada is currently analyzing information gathered during a series of producer and industry stakeholder consultations.

That information will help the organization determine what areas need more research, and what’s needed to begin the actual design of the system.

“We haven’t started designing or developing yet. We’re still in the kind of consultative stage,” Watson said.

Few details around the online tool have been established. Watson said some ability to customize the tool for regional risks is likely, although the exact degree of geographic specialization is unknown. Farm Management Canada hopes to provide depth of information without losing user friendliness, Watson said.

Dan Mazier, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, says the tool has the potential to cover gaps in the existing network of risk management tools, but also noted that there is little concrete information available on AgriShield.

“We have insurance, either through crop insurance or we have AgriStability,” Mazier said. “We have different programs available to us, but what holes are left open at the end of the day? If this program (answers) that, it could be a very interesting type of tool that we could use, but I think it’s still very much early in development.”

Mazier noted that some aspects of AgriShield’s promised scope already exist, using the example of MNP’s Ag Risk Management Projector, which assesses risk to determine the types and level of insurance a producer should pursue.

Keystone Agricultural Producers was among those to participate in a Farm Management Canada focus group on the tool earlier this year.

Government support

The project’s $1.2-million development budget is jointly funded between the federal government and industry.

On May 26, Ontario MP Francis Drouin announced $786,921 in federal funds for the project through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriRisk Initiative.

“Canadian farmers face risk every day and it is essential they have the necessary tools to better understand and manage risk,” he said in a release. “The recent flooding in eastern Ontario and Quebec, for example, shows the need to help farmers more effectively manage risk, so that they can be stronger, more innovative and more competitive.”

Farm Management Canada estimates less than a third of farmers have a risk management plan.

The concept of the tool was first floated after Watson and her colleagues attended a series of industry-led risk management events.

“We found that it was confined to talking about insurance programs and we just thought there is so much more out there to talk about when it comes to opportunities that we have to manage risk better for mitigating negative impacts but also making calculated risks and taking opportunity,” she said.

Farm Management Canada developed a guide to cover those perceived gaps, Watson said, but hopes the online tool will further spread the message.

Brian Lemon, Manitoba Beef Producers general manager, was pleased to see another risk management option announced.

The commodity group has said it would like to see flood and market risks, in particular, among the topics addressed by the new tool.

“Managing risk is becoming a very complicated thing and anything that we can do to help producers understand where their risks are and help them understand how to address those risks, I think that’s a positive,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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