With just over a year to go before the successor to Growing Forward 2 takes effect, Manitoba farmers are being asked for their two cents.
Canada’s next agriculture policy framework will take effect in April 2018, and the federal-provincial negotiations are getting down to the nitty-gritty now. Manitoba’s commodity groups are setting out priorities and the province is asking for input in an online survey.
The Manitoba Agriculture website will be hosting the survey until May 15.
Results will be posted and will be integrated into the next round of discussion on the new national framework.
“This survey is really what we want to be able to relate to,” Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said. “We have our ideas, but we also want to make sure we get good feedback.”
Questions are based around six broad priorities — markets and trade; science, research and innovation; risk management; environmental sustainability and climate change; value-added agriculture and public trust. The areas of focus were drawn from a July 2016 meeting between federal, provincial and territorial ministers.
Brian Lemon, general manager for Manitoba Beef Producers, says his organization has already submitted priorities to the provincial government, including concerns over risk management, research and public trust.
“We’ve got a minister here who is talking about growing the Manitoba herd,” Lemon said. “One of the key things we heard in terms of the hurdles that are going to impede being able to do that is going to be access to good, solid, risk management tools.”
In particular, the group would like to see the WLPIP livestock insurance program, currently run as a pilot in Western Canada, maintained.
Lemon also pointed to a 15 per cent drop in the beef industry’s carbon footprint, a development he says was only made possible by research in best management practices. The Manitoba Beef Producers is pushing for support for the Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiative research farm near Brandon.
The Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers and Manitoba Pork Council have echoed concerns over risk management and research.
Francois Labelle, executive director for Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, targeted AgriStability, which he says has become less friendly to producers, with a lower covered percentage, resulting in fewer growers collecting or participating in the program.
Andrew Dickson, Manitoba Pork Council general manager, says the program is not effectively providing support for farmers during low cash flow years, compared to the previous model. Some changes were made to attempt to target less efficient producers, which were not necessary, Dickson said.
“When margins went way down because of some market problems, the program kicked in some financial assistance to keep the guy in business to try and get him through the bad patch so he could stay in business,” he said. “It didn’t keep failing businesses alive. If you were a bad producer, inefficient and stuff like this, AgriStability was no help to you in the long run. You eventually went out of business.”
Labelle also pointed to expansion of the ag research mandate, which he says may be a concern if the expanded mandate does not come with more resources, and a need for increased flexibility.
“We’re getting into five-year agreements on research and that type of thing, but in three years down the road or two years down the road, if there’s a major change in production or a problem that happens and so on, it’s important that we can get changes made to programs,” he said.
Eichler said concerns over risk management have been a repeated theme from producers and industry.
“We have looked at that and that’s been a large part of our discussions,” he said. “What that will look like, it depends so much on that envelope which we don’t know at this point, but we hope to know soon.”
Eichler also addressed concerns over consistency, raised by commodity groups that previously saw a delay between the expiration of Growing Forward and the implementation of Growing Forward 2 in 2013.
“We don’t want to repeat that, so we hear that concern loud and clear and so does the federal government and my counterparts across the country. We’re happy to have that discussion and hit the ground running,” he said.
The pork council has outlined its own six priorities, including environmental concerns, disease, seed, animal care and public trust.
Dickson would like to see more support for new technology, including advances on monitoring and regulating nutrients in manure application and software to monitor the impact of barn odour on surrounding communities, barn trials to identify best practices for antibiotic reduction (such as sanitation or probiotics), monitoring systems on herd antibiotic use, research into more efficient feeding to reduce manure levels and feed cost and support for barns transitioning from gestation pens to group housing.
“It’s more straightforward to build it when it’s brand new,” he said. “Well, how do you adapt an older barn that’s set up for a completely different system entirely? Can we help them with, say, some of the engineering, some of the plumbing costs or something like that, some sort of offset to encourage guys to move more quickly in getting rid of gestation stalls?”
Dickson also pointed to new husbandry training needed with the addition of group housing and the need to eventually replace Manitoba’s aging hog barns.
“The average age is now 18 or 19 years old and these barns were designed to be 25 years in productive life,” he said. “We might be able to eke out another three, four, five years out of some of them, but some of them, when they hit 25 years, they’re done.”
The pork council would aim for less direct financial help and more assistance in planning barn replacement, Dickson said.
The next ministers’ meeting is being organized for April, at which point the province hopes to have additional details on the Next Policy Framework, Eichler said.