The vision of what government thinks is a good farm safety net and what farmers desire still seem to be decidedly different, not that that is particularly shocking.
But governments keep trying nevertheless.
Earlier this month federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) Ministers of Agriculture reached agreement on the content of the Growing Forward 2 policy framework for the agriculture, agri-food and agri-products sector, the latest in a long line of government cost-shared ag safety nets which all ultimately seem to be lacking.
“The new five-year agreement includes investments in strategic initiatives of over $3 billion for innovation, competitiveness and market development, including a 50 per cent increase in governments’ cost-shared initiatives. In addition, governments will continue to deliver a complete and effective suite of Business Risk Management (BRM) programs to ensure farmers are protected against severe market volatility and disasters,” detailed an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada release.
“Just as farmers continuously improve their business practices, so too have governments made adjustments to help Canada remain a world leader in agricultural innovation and trade,” said Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in the release. “Growing Forward 2 will help drive economic growth and long-term prosperity through agricultural innovation and market development, while also ensuring governments continue to share the risk of severe market volatility and disasters.”
Of course you would not expect Ritz to do less than rave about an agreement he was a signatory too. No politician admits the shortfall within their program.
Even with the Gross Revenue Insurance Program (GRIP) of the late 1980s, which was one of the most maligned farm support programs ever formulated, politicians of the day would have called it the answer to farmers needs.
Certainly aspects of the program have to be seen as positive. Even GRIP had its positives. In the case of the Growing Forward 2 initiative the additional 50 per cent funding for innovation, competitiveness and market development has to be a good thing. There is an obvious benefit to being innovative, although not all innovation works either.
Pea-based snack chips, flax fibre for manufacturing processes, super-compressed hay bales for export to Japan, and strawboard all ideas that were innovative and made logical sense but could not make money in the marketplace.
So having government footing some of the bills in exploring new ideas and developing markets is a good place for some taxpayer investment.
But others see flaws before the ink is even dry on the deal.
The “announcement of the revised Growing Forward 2 Business Risk Management (BRM) programs, the cost-shared federal-provincial policy framework, has two significant changes: a loss level trigger for AgriStability that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for most farms to obtain support under the program; and a clear decision by governments to seek out private insurance options to fill the gaps in public farm safety net programs,” stated a National Farmers Union release.
In the release NFU Terry Boehm said, “from these changes, along with the ongoing destruction of institutional arrangements that have protected farmers, it is increasingly clear that the current government’s intent is to abandon public support for the agriculture sector, and instead let those with the most market power determine the shape and goals of Canada’s food and agriculture system.” He added, “By going along with the federal government’s proposals, provincial governments have also signaled that they are not interested in the vibrancy of the agricultural community, nor does it matter to them who produces the food that Canadians eat.”
And therein lies the rub for governments. Farming by its very nature is extremely diverse, and becoming more diverse all the time. What works for a salmon farmer in British Columbia may not work for a wheat grower in Saskatchewan, a beef farmer in Alberta, or a potato farmer in Prince Edward Island.
So what does that mean for the latest deal?
Like its predecessors it will work for many farmers in many situations.
It will also have holes, which means some farmers will need support and will fall through the cracks.
Time will tell just how many holes the new deal has.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.