Ritz Says Farm Groups Wanted Budget Passed

Buoyed by endorsements from farm groups for the 2011 budget, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz lashed out at opposition parties March 23 in what sounded more like an election rally than a news conference.

“The coalition of opposition parties should explain why they will vote against the budget that has the support of farm groups,” said Ritz.

Defeating the budget will halt funds for agriculture innovation, more food safety inspections, and help for orchardists and pig producers with serious disease threats.

The budget proposed an injection of $100 million over five years into the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, extending accelerated writeoffs for new food-processing equipment, and creating a new fund for inventors of new farming techniques.

Opposition spokesmen replied in kind to Ritz’s comments.

“For agriculture, there is virtually nothing for farmers to compensate for the cuts made in the government’s estimates released earlier this month,” said Liberal farm critic Wayne Easter.

“This budget simply stays the course on the core priorities of the government – $6 billion in tax breaks for large corporations, a $30-billion untendered stealth fighter deal and $13 billion for U.S.-style mega-prisons. This budget does almost nothing to strengthen public pensions, ignores child care and early learning for our kids, and does little for family caregivers and post-secondary students, while gutting our capacity to secure the future of public health care.”

“Nothing in this budget will take the country even one step closer to having the comprehensive national food strategy that most farm organizations and civil society groups are calling for,” said NDP critic Alex Atamanenko.

The Conservatives remain oblivious to the fact that, for many food growers, income stabilization programs are still failing to be bankable and responsive, he added.

“It is also abundantly clear that the much-needed costing review of railway charges that are gouging farmers is never going to happen under a Conservative government,” said Atamanenko.

RELAYING PRESS RELEASE

In case reporters had missed them, Ritz’s office emailed a number of press releases from farm and food industry groups that welcomed provisions in the budget.

Canadian Meat Council president Brian Read welcomed the two-year extension of an accelerated capital cost allowance treatment for investments in manufacturing and processing machinery, while Dairy Farmers of Canada president Jacques Laforge praised the proposed $50-million Agricultural Innovation Initiative.

“It follows up on last fall’s recommendations by DFC and other farm groups that research and innovation need to remain a priority for funding in agriculture,” said Laforge.

The Canadian Pork Council said it was “grateful that the government has recognized the importance of animal health” with measures designed to prevent, and react to, animal disease outbreaks while Canola Council of Canada president JoAnne Buth said her members “look forward to hearing more detail on the new Agriculture Innovation Initiative (and) welcome continued investment in agriculture innovation.” The Grain Growers of Canada praised the government’s efforts to open up markets for Canadian exports.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the country’s largest farm group, found both positive and negative aspects in the budget.

“There are some helpful investment initiatives for the agricultural sector, but Canadian farmers are disappointed there was not a stronger signal from the federal government recognizing agriculture as an investment priority, properly reflecting the value the sector contributes to the country’s economy,” said CFA president Ron Bonnett.

Bonnett also said “the budget should not be balanced on the backs of farmers.” He said Agriculture Canada has had its funding cut by 42 per cent – falling from an average of $4.5 billion between 2004-08 to $2.57 billion for 2011-12.

“If even a fraction of this savings was reinvested into agricultural research and innovation – as has been suggested by numerous groups, including the CFA – Canadian agriculture would be well situated for another 20 years of growth,” said Bonnett.

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