'A big win for farmers': Ottawa secures support for AgriStability with modified plans

·3 min read

OTTAWA — The federal government has a new agreement with the provinces that gives upgrades to a program that protects farmers against large declines in income.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau hosted a meeting with provincial and territorial agriculture ministers Thursday to discuss planned changes to the AgriStability program that would increase payouts for production losses, increased costs and effects from market conditions.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba were the only holdouts going into the meeting.

"We've received the support from all our prov. & territorial colleagues on the removal of the Reference Margin Limit from AgriStability, retroactive to 2020!" Bibeau tweeted.

"It's a big win for farmers across Canada = about $95M/year. Thank you to all farmers & producer groups who got behind our offer."

Ottawa had proposed last November to eliminate the reference margin limit, which serves to reduce a farmer's payout and to boost the compensation rate to 80 per cent.

All the provinces agreed to removing the margin limit, but an agreement wasn't reached on moving to an 80 per cent compensation rate.

"The federal government chose to withhold $75 million in compensation funding for farmers, costing Alberta $12 million per year in federal transfers," said Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen.

"We are disappointed that the federal government chose to withhold these publicly communicated funds."

In a statement, Bibeau's office said the compensation rate changes must also be cost shared with the provinces.

"Our offer to boost compensation rate is still on the table and its potential $75M per year impact would also include provinces’ share," the minister's office said.

"It's up to Prairie provinces to step up with their fair share so the funding can flow to Canadian farmers.”

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Dave Marit said reliable risk management programming is essential to continued growth in the agriculture sector.

"Producers have made it clear that removing the reference margin limit will help the AgriStability program function as intended and make the program more effective and equitable," Marit said.

Response from the agriculture sector was largely one of relief. But the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is calling on Bibeau to offer its increased compensation rate to supportive provinces.

"For years agriculture groups all across Canada have been telling their governments that these programs would not be sufficient in a real crisis. AgriStability, as a program responding solely to severe income losses, is there to help producers in crisis," said CFA's president, Mary Robinson.

"And now, at a time where Canadian agriculture faces immense disruptions and uncertainty, we see critical investments in risk management treated like a political game, with politicians haggling for over 100 days while farmers have real concerns about their livelihoods over the coming year."

Alberta producer groups, including the Alberta Barley Commission, Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Canola, Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association and Alberta Pork, also wish the percentage of compensation was higher.

"This portion of the federal offer includes an additional $75 million per year of support for Canadian producers," the groups said in a release.

"We continue to encourage the provincial and territorial Ministers to consider accepting this part of the proposal, bringing additional support to Canadian farmers and ranchers."

-- By Bill Graveland in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2021.

The Canadian Press