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Making it right

There were lots of big numbers floating around last week about how much, or how little, farmers surrounding Lake Manitoba received in compensation following the 2011 flood.

The federal government says Manitoba farmers were paid out more than $500 million through various cost-shared business risk management programs following the 2011 flooding combined with unseeded acres.

The Manitoba government says it paid out a total of $700 million, $120 million of which went to farmers in the area around Lake Manitoba. It contends payments under all programs ranged from $33,000 to $570,000, averaging out to about $300,000 per producer.

While it’s true that an average of those two extremes is around $300,000, it’s disingenuous to suggest that’s what most producers received. Producers say their payments averaged around $65,000.

The numbers game is good for muddying the waters and makes for great politics. But it sheds little light on the real issues at hand, namely, whether affected farmers should be supported until their operations have fully recovered, and whether existing programs are capable of doing the job.

That it would take years to rebuild pasture and hayland capacity after a disaster such as 2011 is a no-brainer. Some lands were still under water as ranchers entered the 2012 production year. Once those waters receded there is the cleanup of debris, fenceline repair or replacement and reseeding of drowned forages to be done.

If those ranchers still had cattle herds, those cattle still had to eat, which means buying in feed to replace the lost production.

It’s been a bit confusing to see farmers complaining about the Manitoba government’s lack of response to their plight, when 60 per cent of program funding for agriculture comes from the federal government.

It is simply unacceptable for a funding partner, in this case the federal government, to fall back on bureaucratic definitions to rationalize its failure to step up.

The spirit, if not the letter, of AgriRecovery as described on the AAFC website is clear:

“The aim of AgriRecovery is to provide affected producers with assistance to help them take action to mitigate the impacts of the disaster and/or resume business operations as quickly as possible following a disaster event.”

So are the caveats: “Events which are cyclical, such as pricing cycles, or part of a long-term trend, such as a change in markets, would not be considered for AgriRecovery.”

The federal government’s refusal to, as it says, pay for the same flood twice, implies that flooding in Manitoba is seen as part of a long-term trend, as opposed to an infrequent disaster.

We’ve pointed out before that in the face of increased climate and weather variability, governments may well run out of capacity to compensate everyone all the time. But in this case, farmers were told by both levels of government they are entitled to compensation. If existing programs can’t do the job, then find one that will.



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