Agriculture best understands its own program needs

Letter to the editor: Moving CAP funding for organizations from agri-food to the bureaucracy makes little sense

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Dear Editor,

In the end, who understands the issues of farming, agriculture and agri-food better than the industry itself?

Recently, the province launched a program, called “Place to Grow: Agri-food Innovation Initiative, – a program which will help drive innovation, reduce red-tape, and address industry priorities”. From their media release, “under the Canadian Agriculture Partnership (CAP), this initiative will provide new cost-share funding opportunities to agriculture and food value-chain partners, while encouraging greater collaboration to identify opportunities and address challenges in the sector.”

The release also highlights a potential savings of $600,000 in administration costs that would be reinvested into the program, potential shortened timeline approvals, and five announced intake dates for the next 2 ½ years.

While the word “launched” would suggest that this is a new program, it isn’t. If you read further, you will see that this is actually the transition of the organizations and collaborations stream of CAP funding away from farmer and agri-food industry led Agriculture Adaptation Council (AAC) to the bureaucracy.

AAC is a not-for-profit organization made up of Ontario agricultural, agri-food and rural organizations. Board members are elected to represent their various sector groups. A small staff of specialists vet each application. As such, AAC understands the needs of the agricultural sector. For the last 23 years, AAC has delivered Federal-Provincial partnership dollars, including Growing Forward and CAP.

The guidelines for CAP are established by the provincial and federal governments while the funding decisions are made by farmers and agri-food industry reps. This is the beauty of the current system – that those most affected by today’s farming environment are actively involved in the decision making process.

Only a week ago, 32 farm organizations including OFA signed a letter saying that Agricultural Adaptation Council has a proven program-delivery track record and is well regarded by the industry. Randy Jackiw, Assistant Deputy Minister says in a letter to industry partners that the “transfer is not related to AAC’s performance in administering the program. AAC has done an excellent job in this regard.” We agree. AAC is a professional, fiscally responsible organization.

No one is surprised that government would review all program spending. In this day and age, all of us are looking at cost savings measures. But the real test is the value received for money. Having industry input into funding decisions is the best value for money.

In this announcement, the government has responded to the industry call (in its letter) for planned, predictable intakes. But it has reduced the annual intakes from four down to two. Government will also have to prove itself – in both the additional $600,000 savings being reinvested into the program and in improving the timelines for approvals. “Full program details on the Place to Grow: Agri-food Innovation Initiative will be released in August 2019.” So one can assume that there is still time to have input.

If so, industry questions include: How will decisions be made? How will the Agri-food Innovation Initiative staff gather input on priorities and funding decisions from the industry? How will the ministry support organizations and collaborations in their application process?

Industry may not be prepared to accept this change yet – we need to discuss the proposal and, perhaps, alternatives that respect farm input.

Looking forward to this conversation with the Minister…

Peggy Brekveld
Vice-President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

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