© AgMedia Inc.
by SUSAN MANN
Ontario farm groups will continue pressing the federal government to deliver the Agri Flexibility program they requested.
Even though the government says it won’t use Agri Flexibility to support provincial companion safety net programs, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Bette Jean Crews says her organization will lobby for changes. Ontario groups want to use money from the proposed Agri Flexibility for business risk management programs, such as the province’s pilot Risk Management program.
Earlier this month, Gerry Ritz, federal agriculture minister, said roundtable discussions with farmers would affect the “nuts and bolts” of the $500 million program for innovation, environmental initiatives and marketing opportunities. It’s to be delivered over five years with cooperation from provincial and territorial governments.
However, at last week’s Canadian Federation of Agriculture meeting, he told delegates the new Agri Flexibility program being designed now with farmer input “must be proactive and not reactive” and the Ontario Corn Producers’ Association says there’s a clause in the details that says funds are to be used for non-business risk management measures.
Nevertheless, the Corn Producers also plans to continue lobbying “for the correct program that we need,” says president Dale Mountjoy. The program announced by the federal government is “nothing like what we asked for.” The Association’s safety net committee chair Jeff Davis says they feel the Ontario Risk Management program “would work under the Agri Flex portfolio.”
The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario was also looking for Agri Flexibility to give “federal support for made-in-Ontario solutions,” says policy adviser Nathan Stevens, adding they’d be on side with wanting to push for changes in what’s being proposed.
Crews says what’s needed in Agri Flexibility is some leeway for provinces to address business risk management programs according to the diversity found within their borders.
She says this type of programming is needed because there’s a big gap in the current group of federal government support programs: Agri Invest, Agri Stability, Agri Recovery and Agri Insurance.
“We have commodities that don’t have any insurance programs,” Crews says. She says cost-of-production payments are needed to buffer farmers against the effects of dramatic and sudden market fluctuations like the Canadian dollar hitting par with the U.S. dollar last year.
Crews compares the gap in support from federal safety net programs to trying to catch fish with a hole in the net. “We’re in a global market and everybody acknowledges that. We are competing with the Americans who can offer these kinds of programs to their growers and we’re competing with other countries that don’t have our labour and environmental standards much less our food safety standards.”
Grant Robertson, Ontario coordinator for the National Farmers Union, says so far the federal government has failed to recognize this province’s particular needs. Ontario is the most diverse farming province in Canada and that means it has unique needs, such as the pilot Risk Management program for grains and oilseeds. It’s a price support program designed to help offset grains and oilseeds farmers’ losses from low commodity prices. It was also designed with funding coming from three sources: the federal and provincial governments and farmers’ premiums. But the federal government hasn’t contributed to the program since it began in 2007.
If the federal government continues to not fund its share, Robertson says the province’s grains and oilseeds farmers will be out-of-pocket.
You can’t have an Agri Flex program that ignores something that’s key on the ground like the Risk Management program, he says. “It’s just going to be them talking out their ear and saying they support farmers and actually they’re not doing anything.” BF