Canada’s pork producers are offering up a new solution to long-standing frustrations from industry over the AgriStability program.
In a letter to federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) agriculture ministers, the Canadian Pork Council is calling for an increase to the compensation rate offered under the business risk management program from the current 70 per cent to 85 per cent.
“We’ve been saying the AgriStability program as it is today has been somewhat dysfunctional for about a decade — so we appreciate there is a program; we appreciate the help it gives us, but really, it’s minimal and it needs to be revamped to do what it’s meant to do, and that’s help producers across Canada,” said chair Rick Bergmann in an Aug. 26 interview.
Pork producers, as well as farmers in general, have criticized AgriStability in its current form as ineffectual.
AgriStability exists to support farmers when experiencing large declines in farm income.
The pork council wants AgriStability to be more easily accessed and believes a change to compensation levels is more financially achievable than an increase to the trigger from its current 70 per cent to 85 per cent.
“Pork producers are concerned that the cost of increasing the trigger to 85 per cent has created a barrier to movement at the FPT table,” read the letter.
“A simple solution would be to leave the trigger at 70 per cent, but increase the compensation rate to 85 per cent. Doing so would retain AgriStability as a disaster program, respect Canada’s trade obligations, significantly reduce the cost to governments, but still provide additional support to those who are facing extreme loss.”
The federal government has suggested the cost of increasing the trigger of AgriStability would be around $400 million.
Bergmann said it was difficult to determine a “hard and fast” number on what their proposed change would cost governments, but suggested it would be cheaper than changing the trigger levels.
“Increasing the compensation rate, and not the trigger, will be very targeted to those who most need it and it will provide a savings to the government versus it going to a trigger of 85 per cent,” he said, noting the letter was sent in August to allow ministers an opportunity to review the proposal prior to a scheduled October meeting.
Bergmann contended, “the value of food is not being recognized,” in Canada, but remains optimistic October’s meeting will lead to changes.
“In my opinion, this is the one changeup to our asks and really, as a pork producer myself, I need to see that after the federal-provincial-territorial meeting, that it is more than just a meeting, and they come out with strong action items. That to me is a signal that their focus is on helping agriculture, but specifically pork producers,” he said. “I really personally need to see them come out with some strong commitment and action items from this meeting.”
He expressed frustration over seeing the federal government installing ad hoc supports for other industries during the COVID-19 pandemic while, “confining agriculture to work within an AgriStability program that is inadequate.”
In response to the letter, federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau cited the federal government’s $50-million funding through AgriRecovery for the pork industry as well as its $77.5-million fund to assist processors improve safety measures.
“I know that this has been an exceptionally difficult year for many pork producers who are being offered low prices for the hogs they worked so hard to raise,” she said in a statement, later adding she had been meeting regularly with her provincial and territorial counterparts throughout the pandemic.
“Given these programs are cost shared, agreement is required among governments to pursue any changes, which is why these conversations will be top of the agenda for our official annual ministerial meeting this fall,” she said.
Bibeau ended her statement by encouraging producers to use the “full range” of business risk management programs.
“Support offered through AgriStability could even double this year should current conditions continue,” her statement said.