by SUSAN MANN
The federal and provincial governments should fast-track their assessment to determine if drought-stricken Ontario farmers need aid in addition to existing risk management programs, says a spokesperson for the National Farmers Union-Ontario branch.
Coordinator Ann Slater made the request in an Aug. 3 letter to both Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin and federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. Slater also acknowledged and thanked the ministers for their efforts to begin assessing the drought’s impact across Ontario by opening an AgriRecovery file.
Part of the business risk management section of Growing Forward, Canada’s agricultural policy framework, AgriRecovery is a disaster relief framework that enables the federal and provincial governments to coordinate their response to disasters. It fills in gaps not covered by existing programs. Started on July 30, the assessment process normally takes 45 days.
Mark Cripps, McMeekin’s press secretary, says they’re working as fast and hard as they can in conjunction with the federal government to do the assessment. “A lot of the information won’t be known until harvest time so it’s very difficult to do anything ad hoc at this point in time.”
Cripps says their message continues to be that farmers should take advantage of the suite of business risk management programs, AgriStability, AgriInvest and AgriInsurance. Ritz echoed those comments in his email, saying those programs are farmers’ first line of defense. The province, as administrator, is working to get advances on these programs out to farmers as soon as possible, Ritz notes.
Cripps says Ontario’s agriculture minister understands circumstances like this season’s weather requires a response that goes above and beyond the ordinary and that’s why he toured areas hit by drought in Niagara and eastern Ontario and requested that the assessment process begin immediately rather than waiting until after harvest.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales, who also been touring drought-stricken areas across Ontario, says in the Arnprior and Lanark County areas he didn’t see one corn field “that I would put a combine in.” Wales plans to tour Renfrew County Monday.
He notes the most immediate question now is how to save the corn that can’t be used for grain for livestock feed.
Wales adds the governments’ AgriRecovery assessment should be done as quickly as possible because “people need to know where they stand and what their options are.” But “rushing a process to get to the wrong place doesn’t help either.”
Ritz says Ontario farmers “can be assured that officials always work as quickly as possible, especially in these kinds of difficult situations.”
Even though everyone would like to have the assessment completed by now, Ritz says it’s “still too early to know the full extent of the drought as the growing season is still underway.” The assessment process is essential to ensuring that any measures put in place are targeted to the specific needs of affected producers.
Slater says in her letter Ontario farmers rarely need disaster relief but this year growers across the province and across commodities are facing a disaster. “For some farmers, timely rains may divert the disaster, but for other farmers, especially livestock, some vegetable and market gardeners and grain farmers the disaster has already arrived.”
She also urged the governments to make disaster relief available to all farmers facing a disaster “whether or not they are enrolled in other programs.”
But Ritz says AgriRecovery has always been an application-based program where any farmer can apply as long as they meet the established program criteria, such as living in the designated drought area. They don’t have to be enrolled in other programs.
Cripps says AgriRecovery isn’t meant to replace business risk management programs but is designed “to supplement those programs.”
Slater notes the government decision to work on designating affected drought regions under the Livestock Tax Deferral program will provide a benefit to farmers deciding to cull animals because of feed shortages. But NFU-Ontario’s position is the two levels of government should be working towards food sovereignty in the province and Canada. That means giving family farmers the support they need to stay on the land and keep their herds and flocks intact so they can continue producing food for local markets. BF