by SUSAN MANN
How compensation is calculated under a provincial forage rainfall production insurance plan promises to be a key subject of debate at the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association’s annual meeting in Toronto this week.
LeaAnne Wuermli, the association’s communications manager, says there are a number of resolutions forwarded from county associations that raise concern about the plan. The meeting takes place Wednesday and Thursday.
The plan uses rainfall as an indicator of forage quality and quantity. Farmers can get coverage for insufficient rainfall during May, June, July and August or excess rainfall during first cut hay, which occurs usually around Victoria Day Weekend (May 24) in southern Ontario and a week or two later in northern Ontario.
Ann Slater explains the issue arises because last year’s drought didn’t affect farmers equally across a region or municipality but compensation is calculated using an averaged regional value for rainfall. Some farmers who were affected just won’t qualify, she says.
Slater, the Ontario coordinator of the National Farmers Union, says in a Jan. 28 letter to Ted McMeekin, the province’s former agriculture minister, that if the program doesn’t provide reasonable payouts in a year like 2012 when forage and pasture harvests were well below average across much of Ontario “they are no use to farmers.” Many NFU members are frustrated and say their premiums are wasted, Slater notes.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture general manager Neil Currie says during the past several years, weather patterns have changed significantly with rainfall becoming more localized. “The particular weather station you chose for your forage insurance program really started to matter a lot.”
About three years ago, Agricorp, the provincial crown corporation that administers agricultural risk management programs, increased the number of weather stations and gave farmers a choice of which weather station is used to measure rainfall for forage insurance. That helped somewhat to alleviate the problem, he says. But difficulties still exist with the program.
The federation, commodity groups, the provincial agriculture ministry and Agricorp are currently looking to revamp the forage insurance program, he says. One idea is to look at alternatives to the rainfall total, such as crop quality, as the trigger for payment, Currie says.
Changes to the program have been talked about for a couple of years. The 2012 drought “certainly has accelerated,” the review, he says.
Slater says the current situation is exacerbated for farmers who live outside of the government-designated crisis regions and aren’t eligible for additional support through other programs. These include Hay East, a grassroots effort to obtain hay donations from Western Canadian farmers, and the federal/provincial AgriRecovery program which has earmarked $2.4 million for livestock farmers in the designated regions. The AgriRecovery funding is intended to cover a portion of the farmers’ extraordinary costs to transport feed to breeding herds or move herds to areas with surplus feed.
There’s also a livestock tax deferral option announced by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in August 2012. In November 2012 it was expanded to a total of 27 Ontario counties and municipalities. It allows farmers to defer a portion of their sales proceeds to the following year if they sold 15 per cent or more of their breeding herd due to drought conditions.
Stephanie Charest, a spokesperson with Agricorp, says the crown corporation has received some comments and concerns about the plan but “not an unusual amount.” Comments will be collected and used as feedback when they review the plan, she says.
In 2012 Agricorp insured 344,428 acres of hay and pasture valued at $38.2 million. A total of 1,432 farm businesses enrolled their forage in production insurance.
Ontario agriculture ministry spokesperson Susan Murray says according to the 2011 Census there are 1.6 million acres of pasture and 2.1 million acres of hay in Ontario. The number of farm businesses eligible for the forage rainfall plan isn’t tracked. BF