OMAFRA has increased its monitoring of overpayments as part of its response to a 2017 Auditor General’s report that criticized farm support programs.
Interim payments – faster flowing payments to help farmers – and their accuracy, were at the core of the Auditor General’s concerns.
After the 2017 audit, OMAFRA and Agricorp (which administers many farm risk management programs for OMAFRA) reviewed interim payments, especially for AgriStability.
That program is a federal-provincial program that aims to cover sudden loss of income for farmers. It is also the focus of a national review of farm programs, as the number of farmers enrolled has continued to decline since the threshold of loss to access the program was made more difficult.
OMAFRA said in a statement to Farmtario that it involved the Ontario Agricultural Commodity Council, an umbrella group of farm organizations, in those discussions.
The challenge with interim payments is that they are estimates from farmers of what their losses will be.
“The review found that for those interim payments that resulted in farmers being overpaid, the error most often occurred when farmers overestimated their losses during very difficult periods of unexpected financial crisis, and not by the calculation process,” OMAFRA said.
Farmers have to commit to repay overpayments when final calculations are made, although the Auditor General said more accurate initial numbers would be better.
“The accuracy of payments continues to be monitored and internal processes strengthened as needed,” said OMAFRA.
The Auditor General’s report also had concerns about programs that dealt with disasters in agriculture and resulted in quick program formulation.
OMAFRA says that since the 2017 audit, the ministry has developed an internal disaster monitoring network to address an actual or potential disaster event in agri-food.
It complements other disaster monitoring processes in the government including for adverse weather.
AgriStability has also introduced a late participation feature, where farmers can enrol past regular deadlines, although with penalties. This means more farmers access the program if they need it.