Early forecasts may indicate spring flooding is unlikely in Manitoba this year, but for producers, high water is still front and centre as they cope with consecutive wet years and limited risk management tools.
In response, a task force has now been struck by the province to examine how climate-related risks like flooding can be better addressed through insurance programs.
“It’s certainly timely to undertake a review,” said Arborg-area farmer, Bill Uruski, who will head the newly announced Agriculture Risk Management Review Task Force.
No stranger to flooding himself, Uruski said the group will be “seeking input and advice from farmers, insurance policyholders and other stakeholders.”
Ron Kostyshyn, minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, spoke about the initiative last week at Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) annual meeting in Winnipeg.
“Crop insurance, as we know it, has been around for a number of years, so is there an opportunity to explore new options?… We want to hear from stakeholders,” said the minister.
The driving concern prompting the task force is changing weather patterns and the seeming increase in the prevalence of multi-year events. Many farmers have cited a lack of insurance options for those suffering a second year of losses from a single event, such as slow-to-recede flood waters.
Farmers who saw the effects of the 2011 flood linger into 2012 couldn’t claim compensation under AgriRecovery for losses in 2012, although some held out hope that the province would be able to negotiate an agreement with the federal government that would see additional funds.
The two levels of governments cost share the AgriRecovery program, but federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has said previously he is not comfortable paying for the same flood twice.
When the issue of extended coverage for 2012 was raised during KAP’s annual meeting, outgoing president Doug Chorney said it would appropriate to consider 2012 compensation “off the table” at this point in time.
Kostyshyn acknowledged that continual excess moisture has taken a toll, noting that “the way the insurance program is set up, obviously, every time you have a claim… your premium goes up, and the source of revenue is somewhat challenged, so it keeps declining.”
“At the end of the day, it is fair to say that the producer is being challenged,” he said.
But the minister also noted that additional resources have been provided to producers under existing programs where possible, including the 2014 Canada-Manitoba Forage Shortfall and Transportation Assistance Initiative.
That program was put in place to assist livestock producers who had to buy and move feed for the winter months due to an extremely wet growing season. It was funded under the AgriRecovery framework.
Chorney noted that KAP first began lobbying for a review of risk management tools in 2011 and is glad to see a task force in place.
“Many of our members find the programs that are there to protect them are not meeting all of their needs,” he said. “Anyone going three years out of four with unseeded acres or flooded acres, the Assiniboine Valley being a classic example… those producers are really penalized unfairly in their minds because of things beyond their control. They aren’t production factors in their control, they’re really insurable risks.”
The task force has one year to complete its work, and plans to hold a series of public consultations as it seeks to identify ways of making government assistance less ad hoc and more predictable.
Kostyshyn hopes to bring the task force’s findings to future meetings of provincial and territorial leaders, as well as to the federal government.