Like every other organization these days, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) held its annual meeting on Tuesday remotely.
And while in many respects the production year was relatively successful, speakers at the day-long event pointed out the many challenges that still have to be faced.
For instance, KAP continues to lobby the federal government for an exemption on the carbon tax for fuel used by farmers for drying grain and heating and cooling barns, arguing that since greenhouses get such an exemption, Prairie farmers should as well.
KAP president Bill Campbell said his members have appreciated the financial support they have received though the pandemic and are still hoping to see changes to the income stabilization AgriStabililty program proposed by the federal government.
That program is cost shared 60-40 between the federal and provincial governments. The federal proposal is to increase the AgriStability compensation rate from 70 per cent to 80 per cent of losses which would end up being a 50 per cent increase to the amount paid out to farmers through the program.
AgriStability is a business risk management program designed to help farm operations that face large margin declines caused by anything from production losses, unexpected increased costs or disruptions in market conditions. Coverage is calculated on a personalized basis using historical information, based on income tax and other supplementary information.
Marie-Claude Bibeau, agriculture and Agri-Food Canada minister, proposed enhancing coverage after November’s federal-provincial-territorial ministers of agriculture conference.
Appearing (remotely) at the KAP annual meeting on Tuesday, Bibeau pointed out that to make the changes there must be agreement from two-thirds of the provinces weighted relative to the level of participation of the farmers from each province.
As such, two of the three Prairie provinces need to agree.
Bibeau said on Tuesday that her office has yet to receive a formal decision from any of the Prairie provinces.
Manitoba’s Minister of Agriculture, Blaine Pedersen has been reluctant to agree to the changes, worrying that it will add costs or reduce benefits in other areas.
On Tuesday, his office said, "Supporting the growth and resiliency of Manitoba’s agricultural sector is a priority for the Department of Agriculture and Resource Development and the Government of Manitoba. The AgriStability program changes that the federal government are proposing are still being considered by Manitoba."
But time is running out.
Bibeau said for the changes to be retroactive to the 2020 growing season, she needs confirmation from the provinces by the end of this month.
"I’m still very hopeful the provinces will recognize how important it is for farmers… but the longer we wait it will come to a point we won’t be able to make it retroactive to 2020," she said.
Campbell said the foot dragging on the part of Pedersen and the province is discouraging and disappointing.
"Producers and farm groups have sent a unanimous message of support for the proposal and need to know what Manitoba has decided," he said.
The thought of leaving millions of dollars on the table would "represent a failure to protect producers and jeopardize the agriculture industry into the future," he said.
KAP has continually called on the provincial and federal governments to strengthen business risk-management programming for producers.
The federal proposal would eliminate the complex reference margin limit that makes it difficult for farmers to predict if they will get a payment or not.
"Removing the reference-margin limit will help simplify the program and effectively lower the payment trigger for lower-cost operations," Campbell said. "By increasing the compensation rate from 70 per cent to 80 per cent, AgriStability will be more effective for those who suffer a significant loss."
Bibeau bristled at the suggestion the feds intend to make cuts elsewhere after beefing up AgriStability.
"I have never made any suggestion cutting other programs," she said.
But she did say that in improving the benefits in the short term there will be a closer look taken at all the programs for the next five-year cycle of federal-provincial program starting in 2023.
KAP along with other Manitoba farm groups recently sent a letter to the province encouraging the government of Manitoba to ratify the changes proposed by the federal government.
"While this proposal is not a comprehensive solution, it represents a positive step to support producers and a bridge forward to the next Canadian Agricultural Partnership framework," said Campbell.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.