Two of Manitoba’s largest producer groups say they’re perplexed why the provincial government is blaming them for their lack of participation in a recently announced AgriRecovery program.
The 2020 Canada-Manitoba Finished Cattle Feed Assistance Program will spend up to $2.5 million federally funded dollars through provincial administration.
That’s a departure from past AgriRecovery efforts, which have always required provinces to request the program, and furnish 40 per cent of the funding.
Why it matters: The provincial government says its proposal to fund AgriRecovery was “rejected” while producer groups take exception to that characterization.
“We would’ve liked to have contributed to this program,” Blaine Pedersen, provincial agriculture minister said Oct. 16, adding that a proposal to that effect was presented to industry groups such as the Manitoba Beef Producers and Keystone Agricultural Producers, but was rejected.
The province’s proposal apparently involved taking provincial contributions already earmarked for AgriInvest, and redirecting them towards AgriRecovery.
Carson Callum, general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers, said his board had asked the province to revisit that funding strategy given how it would impact, “a number of commodities, including beef.”
“We’re still disappointed that they were not able to come up with that funding,” he said, “but the approach and the avenue that they suggested just did not sit well with MBP and other commodity groups.”
Patty Rosher, Keystone Agricultural Producers general manager, said KAP had objected to the province’s proposal to tap AgriInvest payments, as part of the funding structure.
“It just speaks, again, to this misconception that if the farmer has AgriInvest money, then the industry must be doing OK and they don’t need any support,” she said. “So it’s conflating AgriInvest with other program supports such as AgriRecovery. It didn’t make any sense.”
AgriInvest has been at the centre of a spat between the federal government and agricultural groups this year after Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal agriculture minister, said she was disappointed that producers looking for aid were not turning to the over $2 billion currently sitting in AgriInvest accounts. The industry shot back, arguing that, although the aggregate of AgriInvest tops $2 billion, most individual accounts have less than $10,000.
KAP’s board of directors asked the province to create a different funding proposal, given industry objections.
“They never did,” Rosher said. “That was four months ago. There’s been no discussion since then, and so we were surprised, not only that this program was announced without any involvement, but that the minister never came back to us with a counter-proposal, or another idea, but then suggest that, somehow, our farmers and the Manitoba Beef Producers were responsible for the province not contributing its 40 per cent.”
The program will provide finished cattle owners with $1.20 per head per day for a period up to 63 days, “to help offset costs to feed animals beyond their expected marketing dates, due to slaughter plant closures and operational reductions resulting from COVID-19 outbreaks, or disease control measures,” an Oct. 15 release said.
The program covers “eligible extraordinary costs” required to feed cattle from April 15 to Aug. 31, 2020.
MBP’s Callum said the funds were a “good start to help affected producers.”
The program’s criteria, however, has sparked some concern among the producer group.
“Some of the eligibility criteria needs to be looked at to ensure that it matches when folks would be shipping some of these fed cattle within the province, especially with the backlog that had occurred,” he said.
The group will continue to look into those issues and says it hopes to engage both levels of government moving forward.
Rosher likewise welcomed the funding, but added that KAP had been under the impression that funds for the program would be much higher, around $7 million, based on its earlier discussions with government.
“There wasn’t very much detail in it,” she said of the announcement, “and within these programs, it’s always the devil is in the details in terms of how effective they’re going to be to support the farmers who need the support.”
On May 29, Pedersen had announced Manitoba would be opting into AgriRecovery, following the aftermath of processing backups due to COVID-19.
Plant closures in both the U.S. and Canada sent cattle and hog markets into free fall earlier this year. In early May, following widespread calls for a cattle set-aside program, the federal government announced $50 million for both the cattle and hog sectors, to be offered through AgriRecovery. Another $25 million in AgriRecovery funds would not be attached to any single industry, while coverage would jump from 70 to 90 per cent of eligible losses, Bibeau said at the time.
Those funds would be put up regardless of whether provinces pitched in their own funds, the federal government also said, although provinces would still have to confirm that they were opting in. Designed as a cost-shared disaster relief program, AgriRecovery is typically triggered by the province, with the province then covering 40 per cent of aid costs.
Both Saskatchewan and Alberta quickly announced their participation in AgriRecovery, while also confirming that they would pitch in the typical 40 per cent. Cattle set-aside programming has also been announced in Ontario.
Finished cattle owners in Manitoba may apply for relief until Dec. 1, 2020.
“It’s going to be a very quick turnaround,” Pedersen said. “Right now, I can’t tell you how quick the cheque is going to be inked by the federal government, but we will turn the administration around very quickly on this and get the applications in.”