by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Canadian and Ontario farm groups are taking a wait-and-see approach on how the details of this year’s federal budget delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Thursday will shake out.
Mark Wales, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, wants to see more details. He uses as an example the proposal to spend $51.2 million over the next two years to strengthen the food safety system while, in 2014/2015, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will lose $56 million from its budget. “They’re putting money into improving food safety in the short term and cutting it out in the long run.”
He also wants to see the details of how the government plans to cut more than $300 million from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada portfolio over the next three years.
Also announced were plans to integrate the department and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s scientific expertise through collaborations and by sharing office space. “If you’re talking about sharing a secretary, that’s one thing,” Wales says. “But if you’re doing fundamental research (like AAFC does into something like new crops), that’s a whole lot different than what CFIA does, so what can you share?”
But business risk programs will continue for this year and Wales is pleased to see that funding has been renewed for the Lake Simcoe cleanup fund. The project to reduce phosphorous levels in Lake Simcoe will eventually serve as a template to reduce phosphorous loads in other lakes, points out Wales, the only farmer who sits on the Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee. “It’s pretty cutting edge.”
Promoting regulatory reductions, as well as the Canadian and United States’ action plan on the border are positives for all commodities that export, he says. So too is the government’s commitment to trade negotiations, as long as the agreements are good and “as long as they don’t give things up that are important as well.”
He warns that plans to make the Canadian Grain Commission self-sufficient may eventually have an impact on farmers in Ontario if the Commission introduces a fee for service. The federal agency regulates the grain handling industry and certifies grain for export. The Commission will receive $44 million over two years to change its funding model.
There was also no sign of a commitment to a national food strategy, something that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has been pushing for. Wales is concerned that it is late in the game to get the next Growing Forward agricultural policy agreement signed for 2013, the year it is supposed to take effect. “It’s going to be a busy summer on that file,” he says.
Ann Slater, coordinator for the National Farmer’s Union, Ontario branch, is also disappointed. She wanted to see policies focus on strengthening farms and rural communities and more focus on domestic food policy than trade agreements.
The budget lays the groundwork “for more corporate control and power within the food agriculture system,” she says. Of particular concern is a jigging of research money so that there is more of a push to serve business and the commercialization of products.
Slater is also cautious about efforts to tie Canadian regulations in with other countries or allowing companies to “do their own regulation.” Harmonizing regulations “usually means taking the lowest standard.” She asserts that NFU research indicates that the increase in trade agreements hasn’t improved farmers’ bottom line.
The union is concerned about a Canadian Grain Commission being supported through fee collection rather than public funds, being based.
Her views are not shared by Grain Growers of Canada president Stephen Vandervalk praised the government for making trade such a priority and for allocating $44 million in funding to the Canadian Grain Commission while it makes the transition to sustainable funding.
Grain Growers will reserve judgement of the federal cuts until more details are released said executive director Richard Phillips. “Potentially these wide spread cuts may not touch critical areas,” he says but stresses more clarity is needed. In connection with the plan to integrate scientific research capacity and expertise, he calls for “assurance that this will translate into more agriculture research and scientists on the ground.”
Al Mussell, senior research association with the George Morris Centre in Guelph says he was surprised to see AgriInsurance’s budget cut by $42 million to. He wonders at the reasoning behind cutting when commodity prices are so high. “Your liability with crop insurance is just higher with $6 corn,” he says by way of example.
He doesn’t know what it means over the next three years as the agriculture and agri-food portfolio budget is cut 10 per cent budget from its current level.
Lorne Small, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, says with the budget’s focus on long-term issues and few details, it’s hard to make detailed comments. However, he says the budget’s emphasis on reducing the government footprint and fostering productivity both within and outside of government is good and calls the concept of balancing the budget “pretty healthy.” BF