While last week’s provincial budget included new funding for grain and cereal research, it didn’t include what farmers have been waiting for — an end to school taxes on farmland.
Producers are currently eligible for an 80 per cent rebate on school taxes, but are still waiting for the provincial government to fulfil a promise made in September of 2011 — the complete elimination of school taxes on Manitoba farmland.
“We were hoping that it would follow through with its promise from the last election — going to 100 per cent rebate — but that hasn’t happened, so as far as we know there is still no change,” said Glenn Young, a vice-president with Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP).
The rebate has been increased several times since 2004 when it jumped from 33 per cent to 50 per cent. But since 2010, there has been no increase to the rebate, despite promises to the contrary.
In 2013, the limit farmers could apply for was also capped at $5,000, while application times were shortened and out-of-province landowners excluded from the program.
But Young holds out some hope that the current government’s next budget, the last before the next election, will finally bring the rebate up to 100 per cent.
Overall, Young said that there wasn’t much for farmers in the 2015 budget.
“Generally, there wasn’t even much mention of agriculture,” he said.
One area of agricultural research that did get attention was Manitoba’s Grain Innovation Hub, specifically the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, and The Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research and Medicine, which Finance Minister Greg Dewar characterized as “a world-class value-added cluster.”
In total, $3 million will go to the Hub to encourage innovation in Manitoba’s grain sector, and $1 million will go to the Biomass Energy Support Program.
The second year of Manitoba’s infrastructure plan was also laid out, but while more than $1 billion will be spent, more details are needed, according to KAP president Dan Mazier.
“Dewar focused on funding to improve Highways 59 and 75 in his speech… and while farmers do use these highways, there are so many other roads and bridges with high traffic volumes that are in urgent need of improvements,” he said. “KAP would like to ensure that decisions for municipal road and bridge improvements are done in conjunction with rural municipalities, in areas where there is the most need.”
Mazier went on to say that, “farmers would like to see roads, highways, and bridges improved in high-traffic areas where they often haul grain or move livestock.”
Doug Dobrowolski, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities and a councillor with the rural municipality of Macdonald, gave the budget a “B” rating.
He also noted that the infrastructure funding while good, is not new.
“But on the positive side, we didn’t lose anything in the budget; there were no cuts that we saw, but there’s not a lot there for municipalities either,” Dobrowolski said, adding municipalities are still looking for a PST rebate, as well as one per cent of the existing PST revenue.
Young said he hopes to learn more details about a youth job strategy mentioned in the budget, which could provide opportunities in rural areas.
“We don’t know if it applies to agriculture or not, but what we’re thinking is that if there’s a way you can get young people working on farms, involved in farming, that sort of thing, that can be a good thing,” he said. “But we don’t have any details.”
Of concern for the organization is a year-over-year decline in core funding to Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
“There has been a reduction of almost $10 million in the last four years,” Mazier said. “I notice, in particular, there is a large cut in the areas of policy and strategic innovation — and these are what will guide agriculture into the future.”