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Income support programs not working for farmers

But they are being helped by the low Canadian dollar

AgriStability and AgriInvest, two key government programs to support farmers during periods of low prices, don’t do the job and many producers have dropped out of them, say Ontario and Quebec farm leaders.

“Canadian farmers are asking governments to revisit our risk management programs,” Markus Haerle, vice‑chair, Grain Farmers of Ontario, told the Senate agriculture committee, which is studying international market access priorities for the Canadian agriculture and food sector. “At this time, those programs do not work for grain and oilseed farmers.”

The programs are needed for the years when market prices drop to or below the cost of production, he added. “In the past, we had good programs. They were eliminated because there weren’t enough dollars to cover them off.

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“However, now we are basically at the point where we really have to take a look at them closely because it is hurting all aspects of agriculture, not just grain and oilseeds. It’s flowing down the line. Even animal production is being hurt by this.”

William Van Tassel, first vice-president of Quebec Grain Producers, said farmers were protected by high grain prices over the past three years so the programs weren’t needed.

While farmers are currently benefiting from low value of the Canadian dollar in terms of sales, “our inputs are going up, such as the costs of fertilizer and imported products,” he said.

“All we ask for, and what I would ask for here, is that we can be a bit more competitive with our neighbours; and AgriStability does not make us competitive,” he said.

AgriInvest “helps more when the prices are good,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s a good program.”

Haerle called for an insurance-like program where the farmer and governments make annual contributions. The money should be readily accessible during bad years. The current programs require farmers to prove “such a huge loss that you will never touch it because then it becomes a nuisance.

“We have seen multiple farmers in Ontario dropping out of AgriStability because they never touched any dollars, and they paid into it, because the trigger points are not where they should be. Make it worthwhile for someone to be in it.”

Van Tassel also called for a reverse of the cuts to public agriculture research. “We have really good public researchers in Ottawa but they are fewer than there used to be.” Better crop varieties would go a long way to keeping Canadian farmers internationally competitive.

Haerle said, “It’s important that Canada recommit to having an active and significant role in plant breeding. As regards exports, many countries have, for example, very low tolerances for certain toxins that are products of fungi that infest crops, especially corn and wheat. We need to develop plant-breeding programs of grain varieties that are much more resistant to these fungi.”

Van Tassel also urged the federal government to improve its program of countervailing duties on products being dumped in Canada. Ontario and Quebec farm groups launched a case against American corn in the past. “It cost our two organizations a fortune and didn’t last any time. The legal bill was $3 million.

He also wants governments to make science the priority in regulatory decisions. “Not like what they have in Ontario, cutting out the neonics pesticides, which is coming in my province, also. You have to have decisions based on science, not based on the Sierra Club placing social pressure on them.”

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