by SUSAN MANN
A coalition of Ontario farm groups is concerned the federal government may be considering slashing funds for AgriStability, a national business risk management program that supports farmers when they have a large margin decline.
In a June 19 commentary posted on iPolitics, a Canadian political and news commentary website, Amy Cronin, the chair of the Ontario Agricultural Sustainability Coalition and Ontario Pork chair, writes that there are indications the federal government is seeking to reduce AgriStability funding by 50 per cent.
AgriStability is one of the business risk management programs that are part of Growing Forward, the country’s agricultural policy framework. The cut is being discussed as part of proposals to develop Growing Forward 2, which will replace the current round of programs when they expire on March 31, 2013.
Such a significant reduction would amount to a more than $425 million cut to Ontario farmers over the five years Growing Forward 2 is in place, Cronin writes. It would be detrimental to Ontario’s rural economy and affect all non-supply managed commodities. The cuts would also reduce farmers’ access to bank credit.
Business risk management programs allow farmers to mitigate risk and fairly compete in the domestic and export markets. But any reduction in AgriStability under Growing Forward 2 has the potential to reduce overall output and eliminate farmers in Ontario, she says.
Cronin could not be reached to discuss her comments.
The coalition has set up a website to inform farmers about the potential cut.
Patrick Girard, media relations supervisor for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says by email a refocused suite of business risk management programs was part of this year’s federal budget. “With record high incomes and growth in the agricultural sector, the time is right to look at changes to enable Canadian farmers to make their money from the marketplace, not the mailbox,” he writes.
Negotiations between federal and provincial officials are continuing on Growing Forward 2 programs and “governments continue to look at fiscally-responsible ways to ensure farm income programming is achieving desired outcomes” and programs funded by both the federal government and the provinces invest strategically to promote competitiveness across the sector, he adds.
Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin says he couldn’t participate in a telephone conference call Tuesday between federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and provincial agriculture ministers about Growing Forward 2 because he was flying home after being in Europe for his 40th wedding anniversary cruise with his wife.
But his deputy agriculture minster and chief of staff, who did participate, told him “there was universal concern expressed that the feds need to be consulting with agriculture stakeholders,” McMeekin says.
Ontario has been consulting with stakeholders and they’re telling him they “want to see a continuation of an effective suite of business risk management programs and we continue to advocate for that,” he says.
Asked if proposed cuts to AgriStability were discussed during the call, McMeekin says the federal government has proposed a series of options but “I think we headed that off by talking about the need for consultation and the effective suite of programs.”
McMeekin says the federal government has said it needs to find $300 million in savings and about 80 per cent of federal support goes to business risk management programming. “They’re looking at some potential flexibility but we haven’t bought in to that, we haven’t agreed to anything other than to continue to consult and continue to articulate our primary objective” to ensure there’s an effective suite of business risk management programs.
Growing Forward 2 will come up again at the agriculture ministers’ annual meeting being held in Whitehorse, Yukon in September. Girard says that’s when federal and provincial governments aim to reach an agreement on a new five-year agricultural policy framework. BF