Comment: Stepping up to help Prairie farmers

Provinces need to do their part to fund improvements to AgriStability

Comment: Stepping up to help Prairie farmers

Farmers face many risks these days – the impacts of a global pandemic on the supply chain, the trend towards protectionism in trade, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, to name a few. Solutions on how to deal with those risks vary considerably, depending on who you ask.

As the prime minister’s special representative to the Prairies, I know there is one solution that farmers overwhelmingly agree on: improving the business risk management programs. These BRM programs are a farmer’s financial safety net and, overall, they currently support Canadian farmers to the tune of about $1.6 billion in an average year.

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Agriculture is a shared jurisdiction in Canada. For the last 20 years, federal governments of all stripes have shared the cost of the BRM programs with provinces and territories, with the feds paying 60 per cent and provinces paying 40 per cent.

Foremost among these programs is the insurance-style program, AgriStability, which essentially gives payments to a farmer if their incomes drop significantly.

Since the program was cut by the Conservative government in 2013, it no longer pays out enough, or with enough predictability, for farmers to see it as worthwhile.

The fact that less than 30 per cent of eligible farmers enrol for the program, clearly shows that immediate improvements are needed.

Recently, my colleague Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, shared our government’s proposal to make immediate improvements to the AgriStability program, so that it pays out 50 per cent more to farmers.

This will be achieved by removing the “reference margin limit,” which, as its name implies, limits the amount a farmer could be paid from AgriStability if they experience a significant decline.

Bill Campbell, president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers, calls the reference margin limit the “sticking point” that hampers farmers when they do their annual paperwork and need the help of the program to stabilize their farms.

On top of removing the reference margin limit, our government wants to increase the amount the programs pay out to farmers through its “compensation rate,” raising it from 70 per cent to 80 per cent. This increase, which has been a key request from producer groups, will mean the support will go to the farmers who need it most.

Taken together, these changes should help reverse the trend of low farmer enrolment, and mean farmers might start to see the benefit of participating in this vital program once again.

I won’t beat around the bush. These changes simply can’t happen unless we can get the elected officials at the provincial level on board with their fair 40 per cent share.

Throughout COVID-19, farmers and everyone in the supply chain have stepped up to feed Canadians. It has been Team Canada effort. In order to make these changes that farmers have been calling for, let’s bring that same spirit of co-operation and action to help our farmers better manage the risks they face.

Hon. Jim Carr is member of Parliament for Winnipeg South Centre, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s special representative to the Prairies.

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