Radio silence from Manitoba government on agriculture relief

As of May 22, producers were still waiting to hear if Manitoba will join the other Prairie provinces chipping into AgriRecovery

Manitoba farmers have yet to hear if the province will be throwing its weight behind the AgriRecovery aid promised by the federal government earlier this month.

Why it matters: Saskatchewan and Alberta have committed provincial funds to AgriRecovery, following the federal promise of $125 million earlier this month, but Manitoba has yet to say whether it will be joining in.

On May 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada announced they would commit $125 million towards AgriRecovery, regardless of if provinces decide to add in their own funds. The amount echoes what the federal government typically budgets for AgriRecovery, although the full amount is rarely used up.

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The May 5 announcement also increased AgriRecovery coverage from 70 to 90 per cent of eligible losses.

The proffered federal funds are a departure from how AgriRecovery is typically operated. Requests for AgriRecovery typically come up from provinces, which then cover 40 per cent of the framework’s costs to the federal government’s 60 per cent.

The urgency of COVID-19 has prompted the federal government to provide its share without financial commitment from the provinces, AAFC has said.

Provinces will still have to confirm participation in AgriRecovery, however, a spokesperson from AAFC said.

AAFC would not confirm whether Manitoba has requested an assessment under AgriRecovery.

Of the federal funds bound for AgriRecovery, $50 million was slated for a beef set-aside program, while another $50 million was promised to the pork sector and the final $25 million was not allocated to any particular sector.

Both meat sectors have seen significant market disruption due to processing plant closures in the wake of COVID-19. The beef sector ground to a halt in April after Cargill’s Alberta plant in High River temporarily shut down, while other major processors were forced to slow production due to social distancing. Feeders reported losses of several hundred dollars per head as cattle backlogs bloomed.

It has been a similar story in the pork sector. The bottom fell out of the weanling market after major processors in the U.S. and a major processor in Quebec were forced to close after staff tested positive for COVID-19. The news stranded market hogs and left barns without room to cycle in new feeder animals. The Manitoba Pork Council reported that some producers had lost all value for their weanlings.

Alberta, Saskatchewan on board

Manitoba is the only Prairie province yet to announce AgriRecovery funds.

On May 7, Alberta announced up to $17 million for a cattle set-aside program under AgriRecovery, to be met with an expected $26 million in federal funds.

A statement on Alberta’s Agricultural Financial Services Corporation website says details of the program are still in the works, but that it “will compensate cattle producers for the extraordinary cost of keeping slaughter-ready cattle on maintenance feed ration until the backed-up inventory is cleared.”

The same announcement increased advance AgriStability payments for the pork and potato sectors from 50 to 75 per cent. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry estimated that would provide pork producers with $25 million in immediate cash.

British Columbia, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Alberta have all taken the federal government up on a proposed increase of AgriStability advance payments from 50 to 75 per cent.

Saskatchewan was initially reluctant to promise funds for AgriRecovery, arguing that the typical 60-40 split would tax the province’s finances.

On May 14 Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit relented. Saskatchewan announced $10 million to aid livestock producers, $5 million of which was slated for the beef set-aside program under AgriRecovery for an expected $12.5 million in combined provincial-federal funds.

The remaining $5 million would help take the sting out of rising premiums under the Western Livestock Price Insurance Program, Marit said. Provincial funds would cover 40 per cent of the increased premiums until September, retroactive to Feb. 25 this year, he announced.

“Our livestock sector is facing tremendous challenges, with producers facing higher costs to feed animals that cannot move along the supply chain as they normally would,” Marit said. “Participation in the AgriRecovery set-aside program will compensate producers for the cost of temporarily holding cattle back from market until supply more evenly matches demand and processing capacity.”

There has been no word yet on Manitoba’s response.

Shortly after the federal announcement, Premier Brian Pallister said he was waiting on details from the federal government.

“I can only say that support for the agricultural sector is needed, that it is a tremendously important sector to not just the Manitoba economy, but the Canadian economy and I know that we are all going to do better when farmers do better, so we want to make sure that whatever programs the federal government announces, we review and, where appropriate, if there is a need for provincial support to complement what the federal government is doing, it’s something that we will give full consideration to,” he also said May 5.

Industry groups speak

The Manitoba Beef Producers is urging the province to commit and to announce its 40 per cent commitment.

The provincial industry group has joined the Canadian cattle industry in pushing for AgriRecovery in the face of COVID-19.

“MBP believes that, as cost-shared programs related to COVID-19 are identified by the federal government, such as the AgriRecovery initiative, it is important that there is corresponding participation by the Manitoba government,” MBP said in an emailed statement. “This will help ensure that Manitoba’s cattle producers are on a level playing field with their counterparts in other provinces in terms of available program funding.”

Business risk management, such as the high premiums from the Western Livestock Price Insurance Program tagged by Saskatchewan, is also a point of contention for MBP.

The Manitoba Pork Council was also reached for an interview, but declined to comment.

Manitoba’s provincial government previously fielded calls for AgriRecovery late last year, after feed shortages led over a dozen municipalities in the Interlake and Parkland into a state of agricultural disaster.

The province was reluctant to trigger AgriRecovery at that time.

Addressing municipalities in November 2019, Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen argued that ad hoc aid relief would not resolve the crisis.

Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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