Manitoba ag minister asks for producer engagement ahead of annual ministers’ conference

AgriStability among issues top of mind during Pedersen’s tour of province

The province is asking farmers to give their opinions on several topics ahead of October’s annual meeting of provincial ag ministers.

“We are committed to bringing the voices of farmers forward,” said Blaine Pedersen, minister of agriculture and resource development in an Aug. 4 news release.

Through an online forum, the province is inviting producers to give feedback on business risk management, market opportunities, innovation and technology, and resiliency (particularly as it pertains to resiliency in the face of COVID-19-related challenges).

The meeting with provincial ag ministers will include discussions on the next iteration of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), Pedersen said in a call with media Aug. 5.

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CAP is a five-year agreement that began April 1, 2018 and which was to see $3 billion in investments put into the agriculture industry (split between the federal and provincial governments). In it, the Canadian and Manitoba governments pledged to invest $176 million through the Ag Action Manitoba Program, according to the province’s website.

Pedersen recently spent several days touring Manitoba and speaking to producers at 19 meetings, he said in a call with media on Aug. 5. During that tour many producers expressed concerns about the AgriStability program.

“It came back very strong that AgriStability is not working. It’s not bankable, it’s not timely,” Pedersen said. He quoted someone who’d told him, “the cheque comes after the auction sale.”

KAP president Bill Campbell told the Co-operator that he was concerned with declining enrolment in the program, and that the program hasn’t necessarily evolved to address producers’ needs.

The program has been derided by farmers and ag groups for some time for not paying out fast enough, or for required truly disastrous losses to pay out. In March the Canadian Federation of Agriculture suggested some farmers were so fed up that they wanted to scrap the program.

At the time, CFA called for the program’s reference margin limit to be changed to 85 per cent from 70 per cent. The Harper government cut AgriStability’s trigger in 2013 to save money, CFA second vice-president Chris van den Heuvel said.

Pedersen told media that raising the reference margin to 85 per cent would require the province to raise its program contribution to in excess of $37 million from a current $19 million.

“There’s a substantial cost and even if you can justify the cost, it doesn’t fix the program in terms of making it timely,” he said.

He said another issue to examine was the administrative cost of the program, which he said cost the province $5 million out of its $19-million contribution.

“On a program that’s not working well,” he said.

Pedersen said he also expects to discuss the Western Livestock Price Insurance Program (WLPIP).

Currently, premiums under the program aren’t subsidized like crop insurance premiums. The federal government objects to subsidizing it because it’s a regional program, Pedersen said. However, he said New Brunswick has expressed interest in joining the program.

“Let’s get it into a national program,” he said, adding the program can and has worked well as long as premiums are affordable.

Water and soil management is another topic Campbell wants to see raised.

“We need to utilize the land better than what we are doing now,” he told the Co-operator.

The province needs to talk drought resiliency and water retention, Campbell said. Certain regulatory barriers make it hard for farmers to improve wetlands on their property, he said.

Better flood and drought management would lead to less reliance on crop insurance, he added.

Campbell also said the provinces need to talk carbon tax.

To give feedback on these topics, producers can visit engagemb.ca/engaging-mb-ag-industry until Sept. 1.

About the author

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Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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