Collaboration hoped for as ag ministers meet

COVID recovery, ag policy, ASF preparedness and retail fees on agenda as ministers talk ahead of their September meeting

Canada’s agriculture ministers are meeting virtually July 15 ahead of their regular annual meeting in September.

The agenda had not been finalized as of July 12 but is expected to include agriculture’s role in the economic recovery post-COVID-19, the next agriculture policy framework, African swine fever preparedness and retail fees.

Saskatchewan agriculture minister David Marit said one thing that won’t be on the table is the prairie governments’ report on a potential replacement for AgriStability.

“It’s still being worked on,” he said.

The idea of a margin-based insurance program was put forward last November and a consultant was hired to flesh out details. Ministers will get that report in September.

The next framework and business risk management programs are at the top of the priority list as the Canadian Agricultural Partnership winds down in less than two years.

Marit said the problems with AgriStability have shown that farmers across the country face unique challenges. What’s important in the Prairies might not be in the Maritimes or British Columbia, he said.

“I’m hoping that we can still see some collaboration,” he said. “We’ve just got to ensure that the next go-round of programming really allows us that flexibility and issues around that side of it.”

Some farm organizations have asked for the overall funding to be increased. Marit said he has had no indication that Ottawa is prepared to raise the total. He is also curious to see what the funding envelopes within the next framework will be.

“I guess my concern will be, as we move forward, is what’s going to be their priorities or how will it line up with provinces’ priorities across the country,” he said of Ottawa.

He would prefer provinces be able to use their funding to meet their own needs and priorities.

The minister also said it’s clear that agriculture pulled Canada through the COVID-19 pandemic and while Western Canada in particular is facing weather challenges this year the industry will still be the backbone of the economy.

“The challenges will be finding the right balances of the programs to make it work for everyone,” he said.

On the topic of retail fees, ministers struck a working group last fall to look at the fees retailers placed on suppliers during the pandemic and that group is expected to report findings.

Keeping African swine fever at bay remains a concern across North America’s highly integrated pork sector.

“It’s obviously scary,” Marit said. “Everybody’s saying it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. You just hope that you create the environment that you could mitigate any of the risk.”

Because the industry is so integrated all jurisdictions have to work together to plan for prevention and mitigation should the disease that decimated China’s industry be found on the continent.

Meanwhile, Marit urged all producers affected by the widespread drought to reach out to others or contact farm stress lines.

“I’m in a constituency where the drought has had a big impact. I’ve had some calls from cattle ranchers and mixed farmers on what can be done or (asking) what can you do.”

The current programs are in place and producers made business decisions to participate or not. Marit said he will look at options within existing programs but ad hoc payments are not on the table.

Crop insurance participants who want to salvage a crop for greenfeed should contact the corporation.

“We’re a resilient lot,” he added. “We’ll figure this out and we’ll weather the storm and we’ll put a crop in again next year.”