Farmers in other provinces appear frustrated that the Prairies have yet to decide whether they will fund AgriStability changes.
Farmers from Quebec and Ontario last week urged Ottawa to go ahead with their proposed changes in those provinces that had accepted the added cost of removing reference margin limits and increasing coverage from 70 percent to 80 percent. That includes Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
But the federal-provincial agreement requires two-thirds of provinces and two-thirds of reference margins to make the change, and federal minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has said the money won’t flow unless that agreement is in place.
Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan said they can’t afford the extra cost and have yet to announce their intentions.
Marcel Groleau from the Union des Producteurs Agricole said members of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture have worked hard to convince their respective governments to agree. He told the CFA annual meeting last week those provinces shouldn’t be left out because others don’t agree.
“We would like the federal government to accept to move forward with those provinces who are willing to move forward and that would put some additional pressure on those provinces who are still hesitant and also set the table for the talks about the next policy framework in 2023,” he said after moving a resolution to that effect.
He got public support from Bruce Buttar of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
“These proposed changes are important enhancements and are a result of the advocacy efforts (of CFA members),” he said.
None of the western CFA members commented during the virtual conference but 95 percent of those who voted agreed.
During her address to the meeting, Bibeau thanked CFA for its advocacy and took a jab at the opposition.
“We need two of the three (prairie) provinces to join and to join soon,” she said. “It would be nice to see all federal parties advocate for provinces to make these changes as well.”
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole spoke to delegates but did not directly answer the question when asked if he could help convince the prairie provinces to move.
In a later statement, Bibeau said a previous Conservative government cut the program to the point that not enough producers participate.
“Erin O’Toole should demonstrate he supports farmers and publicly advocate for the changes that they have been asking for,” she said.
Bibeau said prairie agreement is “desperately” needed and she was confident that would happen. Consultations are now beginning on the next five-year agreement and long-term improvements, she said.
“However, consultations on longer term fixes to the business risk management programs should not come at the expense of the short-term fixes to AgriStability that farmers are asking for today,” she said.
Steve Funk from MNP observed that the April 30 deadline for AgriStability is approaching and farmers are starting to lock in their risk management strategies.
“Assumptions on what the AgriStability program will look like for 2021 are critical in these decisions,” he said.
Stuart Person, MNP’s senior vice-president of agricultural services, told the meeting during a business risk management discussion that the firm has made several observations about the program suite and the ongoing discussion about reform.
He said the existing programs are misunderstood. Despite the comments that the programs are broken and don’t work, they have been around for about 25 years.
They are a solid foundation on which to build, Person said, but more needs to be done.
“The BRM programs have not been self-revealing so education and business acumen are a necessary part of understanding. We can see that criticisms are not always fair and suggest that education is lacking around both financial fluency and risk management planning,” he said.
He also said questions about the role of governments in risk management need to be answered. Producers don’t always know what they want or if their requests are reasonable, he said.
“The approach that has been used in the past by industry when asking for changes might not be working as intended. In order for producer requests for changes to BRM programming to be actionable on a timely basis, there is a need for producers to better understand the programs that are already available, be clear on what it is they want,” Person said.
Organizations should “come to the table with well-thought-out asks that take into account and clearly communicate the nuances of various sectors while working toward common unified goals for all agriculture in Canada,” Person added.