Saskatchewan has reached a partial deal with the federal government on the linchpin farm aid program AgriStability.
Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced Thursday that all the provinces have agreed to part of a plan to improve AgriStability, a business risk management program that protects Canadian producers from large declines in their farming income.
The parties struck the deal at a federal-provincial-territorial meeting on Thursday.
The deal makes it easier for farmers to trigger payments over lost income — a change that will send about $95 million more to producers nationally, a Thursday news release said. The deal with the provinces applies retroactively to the program's 2020 year, and will also extend the 2021 program deadline to enrol to June 30.
“Reliable business risk management programming is essential for the continued growth of the agriculture sector. Producers made it clear (the change) will help the AgriStability program function as intended and make the program more effective and equitable,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture David Marit .
Lowering the trigger for payments covering lost income has been a long-standing point of contention for Saskatchewan farm groups. Last year, they lined up to call for easier aid access for industries scrambled by COVID-19.
The provinces and the federal government share the costs for the program. However, a roughly $170-million top-up proposed by Ottawa months ago has failed to secure the support of the Prairie provinces.
So far, Saskatchewan — along with Alberta and Manitoba — isn't committed to covering its share of the money. The offer is still on the table, Bibeau said.
A recent push from the Prairie provinces urged the federal government to cover its 60 per cent to boost the compensation rate, while leaving the provinces "flexibility" in their funding, a Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture statement said on Thursday.
The overall changes to compensation will be a relief for farmers, particularly livestock producers, noted Thomas Linner, agriculture critic for the provincial Opposition NDP. However, he expressed concern that the agreement didn't also increase Saskatchewan's cost-sharing commitments.
"These changes have the federal government’s support, but the Sask. Party government is blocking these changes from becoming a reality," he said.
In a news release on Thursday, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association welcomed the changes, but expressed disappointment that the parties couldn't strike a deal on compensation rates.
"(This) will go a long way in making AgriStability more predictable and equitable for our industry," the release said.
— With Calgary Herald files
Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix