photo: Carol Mitchell (fourth from left), Ontario's minister of agriculture, was on hand at B&D Fullarton Farms near Mitchell on Wednesday to announce the release of final details about a risk management insurance program for non-supply managed farmers.
by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Not sure if Ontario’s new risk management program is for you?
You’ll have a year to try the brand new market insurance program for free, says the province’s minister of agriculture. Carol Mitchell made the announcement Wednesday morning on a farm near Mitchell flanked by members of the Ontario Agriculture Sustainability Coalition, an industry-led committee that spearheaded the development of the program.
The grains and oilseeds sector will be able to apply to the program that will cover the 2011 crop year in August. Applications for farmers in other commodities will be available in the fall. There will be commodity specific information sessions held across the province, notes Wilma Jeffray, chair of Ontario Pork. The province has posted its eligibility requirements for 2011 on its website as well as details about the programs serving individual commodities.
The program is voluntary and, this year, will be open to farmers within the commodities covered — grains and oilseeds, hogs, cattle, sheep, veal and fruit and vegetables — regardless of whether they have applied for AgriStability coverage. Beginning 2012, farmers will also have to be enrolled in AgriStability to be eligible.
It’s the first time “in more than 25 years that the province went it alone to deliver a made in Ontario agriculture program,” Mitchell said. Speaking to a crowd of about 60, she credited the grains and oilseeds sector for leading the way. “Four years ago they came forward with a program that talked about what they needed for their commodities; today we have the opportunity for risk management programs for the other non-supply managed sector because of the work, because of the foundation that was laid by grain and oilseeds.”
“This program was always designed to be a part over and above AgriStability,” Mitchell said during a session with media after the announcement. One of the concerns about AgriStability is it “isn’t giving the bankability, the predictability, the stability that our farmers need. So coming forward with an insurance program, it then starts to speak to address the volatility,” Mitchell says. “That’s what today represents and that’s what (farmers) were looking for.”
In recent months, the risk management program has come under criticism because the money it pays out is eventually deducted from AgriStability payments.
Mitchell downplayed a drop in enrollment in the already running grains and oilseeds risk management program. According to Agricorp, which operates the program and will administer the other commodity insurance programs, in 2010 only 5,900 enrolled in the program, a drop of more than half from the 12,200 that enrolled when the pilot was first launched in 2007.
She attributed the drop to an uncertainty about the program’s future, which the province addressed in March by making RMP permanent. “It was a three-year pilot to begin with and then it was an extension of the year but that extension came later,” she explained. “I would have to say that the G&O farmers who chose to be a part of the program that the participation was quite high given the uncertainty that they felt from the pilot project to the extension to the permanent program today.”
Judy Dirksen, president of the Ontario Veal Association, remembers in 2009 when she and four others visited Leona Dombrowsky, the province’s former agriculture minister, to pitch the concept. “Leona’s message to us was very clear,” she said. “‘Get your act together, get your ask . . . together and we’ll see what we can do.”
“This day is the culmination of all of those efforts, the efforts of a lot of people,” Dirksen said.
Bette Jean Crews, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and chair of OASC, congratulated the province for its efforts and noted that agriculture not only provides “safe and nutritious food” but also jobs for those in urban areas. With the risk management program now in place, “we can continue to produce the food we need and generate the jobs that made this province the great place that it is.”
Henry Stevens, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, called the program a “milestone for the Ontario farmers and the agricultural industry and agribusiness as a whole.” He credited commodity groups for doing the work to get the idea rolling.
Curtis Royal, president of the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, noted that the program would give cattle producers “the confidence to make all the investments necessary to keep all these operations going.” It also creates a sense of security for consumers, he said: “they know now there’s going to be a solid base, there’s going to be a good high quality product coming to the (grocery) shelf, locally produced product.”
With the first year of the program being free, Dirksen anticipated veal producer enrollment would be strong. There’s only a short time during a year when market prices exceed costs of production, she noted. “It makes it difficult for farmers to keep farming.”
Brian Gilroy, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, said the self-directed insurance program for horticulture will differ from the one offered to other commodities. “We have over 100 fruit and vegetable commodities grown here in Ontario and it’s challenging to design a program that works for everyone but this one fits the need,” he said. BF