National Newswatch

An industry-government working group should oversee BRM changes.


Ottawa—Canola farms have taken a financial beating during the last few years and require immediate changes in government support programs to help them survive, says Bernie McClean, Chair of the Canadian Canola Growers Association (CCGA).

Waiting for the planned October meeting of the federal and provincial agriculture ministers to reach a decision on changes to Business Risk Management programs “means another year will be lost,” McClean told the Common agriculture committee.

As well, BRM needs to “reflect the risks of modern farming,” he said. “The best way to ensure this happens is for government to work closely with industry.” A technical working group must be established so farm groups can actively participate in data and impact analysis.

CCGA represents canola farmers from Ontario to British Columbia as well as administrating the federal government’s advance payments program. Canola is the most widely seeded crop in Canada and is the largest farm cash receipt of any agricultural commodity, earning Canadian farmers more than $8.6 billion in 2019, which was down $700 million from 2018.

Like most farm groups, CCGA wants immediate changes to AgriStability because it currently isn’t helpful to most farmers. McClean said there is very broad consensus “across the country that the program is not effective and not working for farmers. This is reflected in the low participation number of approximately 30 per cent nationally.”

CCGA has tested AgriStability on a model farm, he said. “The results confirm that 2018 and 2019 were tough years for grain farms and that while an AgriStability payment was triggered in 2019, it covers only a small portion of the actual loss, leaving the farm to sustain a large net loss for the second year in a row.”

The first step would be adjusting it “so that it covers losses starting at 85 per cent of historical reference margins with no reference margin limits.”

Farmers face many risks and put in place measures to manage the risks that they’re able to, and then rely on BRM programs “to help us manage the risks that are beyond our capacity to manage,” McClean said.

“Coming into this year, grain and oilseed farms were starting from a challenging position, which is reflected in the statistics showing farm cash receipts are down and farm debt levels are at record levels. More than ever, my farm and farms across Canada are relying on our suite of business risk management programs to help sustain our operations and manage whatever 2020 will throw at us.”

Most farmers have used up whatever funds they had in AgriInvest, he said. “We are still waiting for the analysis from the government on what’s currently in these accounts.”

The working group proposal, which has been endorsed by the AGGrowth Coalition, “can work with the government and make sure these programs are going to be effective moving forward. We can do some analysis on it. We can give real life examples of it and being part of that process, and now obviously not just trying to fix AgriStability but moving forward into the next round of growing forward-type programs or the CAP programs.”

Dave Carey, CCGA’s Vice-President of Government and Industry Relations, said, “What we’re asking for is a laser-focus technical working group on AgriStability. As opposed to looking at everything broadly, let’s have a group that can really dive into how AgriStability is or is not working, to understand where the governments are, both at the federal and provincial levels.”

Farm groups need “a venue to have an open and honest dialogue, back-and-forth, and access to data.” The federal government needs “to act and give the leadership, show the provinces that they’re willing to make sure the agriculture sector as a whole is going to survive. COVID has been a huge thing, obviously, we had lots of issues prior to this, and it’s even more important now. We would like to see that leadership at the federal level and encourage the provinces to come along.”

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.
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