by SUSAN MANN
Everybody has an opinion. But when it comes to farm business risk management, should every opinion count?
That's a question the head of Ontario and Canada’s horticultural safety net committees asks about a new federal survey addressing future approaches to farm business risk management programs.
Mark Wales, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Canadian Horticultural Council committees, says the guidelines concerning who can contribute to the online Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada survey are way too fuzzy.
“The last thing we need is people who don’t really know anything about farm programs commenting about farm programs,” says the garlic farmer from Ontario. “It just leads you to bad answers.”
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada didn’t provide clarification on who can comment in time for this posting.
UPDATED May 17 2016: The general public has been invited to comment on Growing Forward 2 along with farmers, producer groups and other stakeholders, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spokesman James Watson says by email.
“The online questionnaire focuses on the respondents’ experience with programs under Growing Forward 2,” he notes. There is also an email address where people can provide comments. It’s at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watson says the survey is just one part of the government’s consultations as it develops the next framework.
“A range of other consultation activities are already underway, including through the value chain roundtables,” he explains. Other sessions and activities are also being planned and will provide stakeholders and the general public with more opportunities to provide input on their specific priorities for the next framework.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will post summaries of the responses to its consultations throughout the process. END OF UPDATE
The survey is another sign the federal agriculture department is gearing up to tackle the monumental task of developing a five-year framework for national agricultural policy.
Wales says agriculture department officials have “talked to over 2,000 farmers already” as part of another survey sent out to farmers and national farm organizations.
Government officials have been seeking input from producers about what should be in the next agricultural policy framework, called Growing Forward, including ideas for the business risk management programs – AgriStability, AgriInvest, AgriInsurance and AgriRecovery.
The current framework, Growing Forward 2, is providing $3 billion over five years (2013 to 2018) to support innovation, competitiveness and market development. Federal, provincial and territorial governments fund the framework, according to an online Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada information sheet.
The business risk management programs within the framework are driven by demand. To date, they have provided more than $4 billion to help farmers manage severe market volatility and disasters.
Fruit and vegetable growers want the federal government to restore the $500 million a year in funding cut from two business risk management programs by a previous government. The programs are AgriStability and AgriInvest.
Wales says the AgriStability and AgriInvest programs aren’t working as well as they should because of the cuts.
AgriStability provides support when farmers experience a large margin decline. AgriInvest is like a savings account where governments match farmers’ contributions within certain limits.
The funding for the business risk management programs are shared by the federal government, paying 60 per cent, and provinces, paying 40 per cent. Wales says the $500 million a year cut refers to just the federal portion of funding.
“The industry will also be looking for continued work on insurance programs for those crops that don’t have them,” he explains. The Canadian Horticultural Council suggests that for crops without crop insurance, the government considers implementing a self-directed production insurance program similar to the self-directed risk management program in Ontario.
Under the proposed self-directed production insurance program, farmers would be able to deposit funds into an account based on their allowable net sales, and governments would match those funds. The money could be used for “specific improvements to the farm,” including anything that makes you more efficient, he says.
As for AgriRecovery, Wales says, “everybody is looking for clarity” on that program. It’s supposed to kick in when there’s some type of disaster, such as drought, extensive frost damage to a sector or excessive rain situations. “It’s supposed to kick in and cover what existing programs don’t cover.”
However, the program is complicated and was created without a clear set of rules. It appears to provide patchy support across Canada - a disaster in one region of the country gets funding but the same disaster in another region doesn’t qualify for assistance.
Governments “have been trying to evolve the rules along the way,” he says. It’s not a clear, transparent, necessarily fair way to run a program.”
An upcoming step in the process of developing the next framework is the country’s agriculture minsters are anticipated to sign onto an overall agreement on the next agreement’s principles at the federal, provincial, territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting in Calgary in mid-July.
Wales says farm representatives have heard that “fundamentally the farm business risk management programs won’t change. They (governments) aren’t going to invent new programs.”
Meanwhile, commodity groups are working behind the scenes to ask their members what they want in the upcoming programs. In Ontario, Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal will be talking to commodity groups two to four weeks before that agriculture ministers’ meeting in Calgary to determine what Ontario farmers would like to see in the programs.
“My expectation is that after July the serious negotiations will commence and continue through the fall,” Wales notes, adding governments will want to have a proposed agreement in place for July 2017 so ministers can review it at the federal, provincial, territorial ministers’ meeting and sign it there.
The whole new policy framework is supposed to be ready to be implemented on April 1, 2018.
Information on how to comment to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada survey is available on the federal department's website. BF