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Growing Forward To Come First

Livestock producers will have to wait until at least April 1 to find out whether the federal and provincial governments will provide any additional funding help.

Speaking after a Feb. 9 meeting with his provincial counterparts, Agricul ture Minister Gerry Ritz said the two levels of government decided to complete the necessary agreements to have the Growing Forward program fully implemented by April Fool’s Day. It will permit provinces to tailor farm income supports to meet the specific needs of their producers.

In the meantime, farmers should make sure they are enrolled in all existing programs so they can tap into money already available for the sector, Ritz said. Too often farmers complain about the lack of federal assistance without taking advantage of what’s already there, he added.

Ministers want Growing Forward to provide maximum benefits for farmers without setting Canada up for countervailing duties, he continued. Final agreement on the program may seem slow in coming but “we’ve gone as far and as fast as we can to get a quality program for the industry.”

Ontario Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky said the ministers have followed a responsible game plan in developing Growing Forward. “We’ve gotten funds when farmers faced shortfalls and we will be ready to move ahead April 1. We want to do something meaningful for producers but we’ve already spent $1.5 billion on business risk management.” Cabinet colleagues question additional spending when it never seems to be enough, she said.

Ritz noted that cash advance repayment terms have been extended to help farmers. He thinks some of the complaints are generated by farmers “not getting the message about what’s going on.” He also noted that Farm Credit Canada says only .5 to one per cent of its loans are considered at risk. The agency is also prepared to help farmers having credit issues with the commercial banks.

The ministers also agreed to continue working on a national agriculture and food traceability system for emergency management and market access purposes, with the priority being on livestock and poultry.

At their annual meeting in July in Niagara on the Lake, officials are to report on progress toward an action plan on food safety and on a national traceability system.

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