“Little pots of money for various things.”
– DOUG DOBROWOLSKI, AMM
Manitoba’s latest provincial budget contains a smattering of initiatives useful to farmers but little new spending on agriculture programs themselves.
The government plans to spend $225.7 million on agriculture in 2009-10, a 3.2 per cent increase from the previous year.
Spending on risk management, credit and income support programs is expected to total $143.8 million, up 2.2 per cent.
No huge spending change is forecast for AgriInsurance, AgriInvest and AgriStability, the three main business risk management programs under the federal-provincial Growing Forward agriculture policy framework.
The province expects to spend $45.7 million on Agri-Insurance (down two per cent), $14.6 million on Agri-Invest (unchanged) and $39.1 million on AgriStability (up roughly six per cent).
The programs are largely demand driven and the province evidently sees no great increase in claims during 2009-10.
Farm groups expressed disappointment at the lack of new spending initiatives, especially for the hard-pressed livestock sector, in the budget brought down March 25 in the Manitoba legislature.
“We’d like to see the province address the critical economic downturn livestock producers are facing,” said Rob Brunel, vice-president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.
Joe Bouchard, president of the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association, said his industry should have figured more prominently in the budget, considering its size.
“The cattle industry is effectively Manitoba’s version of Ontario’s auto sector,” Bouchard said.
Agriculture takes up 2.2 per cent of the government’s projected $10.3 billion in spending for 2009-10.
Despite a steady-as-you-go course on agriculture program spending, the budget contains funding for a range of measures affecting farmers directly or indirectly.
Increasing the school tax rebate on farmland to 75 per cent from the previous year’s 70 per cent
Doubling the riparian tax credit, extending the odour control tax credit and making a sales tax exemption for manure slurry tanks permanent
More resources for inspecting on-farm manure storages and waste-water facilities
A program for protecting and restoring wetlands Enhanced animal welfare and food safety programs
A GO centre in northern Manitoba to support local food production
An 8.7 per cent increase in rural economic community development initiatives
Bouchard welcomed the increased riparian tax credit. But he said Manitoba really needs a province-wide environmental goods and services program for cattle producers and other farmers, such as one proposed by MCPA.
Brunel said KAP wanted to see a land restoration program to help producers with land damaged by excessive moisture in 2008.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities expressed disappointment with the budget.
AMM president Doug Dobrowolski, an R. M. of Mac-Donald councillor, said it contained “little pots of money for various things” but, overall, municipalities will continue to struggle with very limited revenue sources.
“We thought there’d be more for municipalities. We graded this budget a D.”
The province is allocating $1.6 billion for infrastructure, including housing, hospitals, highways, schools and water treatment plants. Finance Minister Greg Selinger said that cash includes $125 million of new money for infrastructure.
But AMM says the province has ignored municipalities’ plea for a sustained, alternate revenue source for municipal infrastructure.
With files by Lorraine Stevenson