by MELANIE EPP
A national organization that represents nearly 3,000 farmers in Ontario wants this week’s provincial-federal-territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting to address unfinished business on agricultural business risk management programs. It’s one of two main issues Ontario’s agriculture minister plans to bring to the table.
Carol Mitchell will carry “a strong message” that the current business risk management programs are not working and Ontario farmers need change before 2013, says Sarah Petrevan, a spokesperson from the minister’s office. As well, Mitchell will reaffirm the provincial government’s “continued commitment and support to supply management” and discuss “its importance to the Ontario sectors who have it,” she says. The goal is to ensure Prime Minister Stephen Harper keeps these issues in mind during international trade talks, Petrevan explains.
The ministers meet Thursday in Toronto. Their big meeting will be held in July in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick.
Virginia Labbie, senior policy analyst agri-business for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says the organization’s farm members hope “tangible improvements” will be made to business risk programs such as AgriStability in the areas of “transparency, predictability and timeliness.” The non-partisan organization represents the interests of more than 100,000 small businesses across the country, including those in agri-business.
Referring to the livestock sector, Labbie notes that while prices are improving, producers have “gone through a lot of years of downturn in the livestock economy, so AgriStability really isn’t fitting the bill for them.” A 2010 survey the organization conducted indicated 58 per cent of farmers were dissatisfied with the program that provides support for losses of more than 15 per cent of the recipient’s average farm income.
According to the survey, farmers’ other top priorities for government action include: a greater focus on regulatory reform and the reduction of red tape, reduction of the total tax burden and improvement in market access for Canadian agricultural products.
Harper recently announced the Red Tape Reduction Commission, which will look for those areas of red tape that can be reduced for small business owners, while tackling some of the biggest barriers to small business growth. Labbie says that farmers who are members of the business federation bring forward some “very compelling examples” of red tape-induced frustrations which are a “huge drain on productivity.”
But overall, optimism in the national agriculture sector remains high, according to the organization’s monthly agriculture business barometer, released Tuesday.
Labbie attributes this optimism to improved commodity prices in grains and oil seeds. “We’ve also seen a lot more optimism in the livestock sector,” she says, “We’re seeing some much-needed improvement in those markets.”
She says she hopes that the upcoming agriculture ministers’ meeting will continue to reassure farmers of positive change and growth. “I think there’s a real opportunity here for agriculture ministers, as they meet this week, to build on this positive momentum and really ensure that their policies fuel, not dampen, this business optimism.”
The organization plans to monitor the meeting and the federal-provincial budgets “very closely” to see if they help fuel business optimism, says Labbie. “We’ll be watching over time to see if they start passing on our member’s key priorities, like improving market access for Canadian agricultural products.” BF