Opinion: Grains and oilseed farm groups aligned on program changes

Board chair says AgriStability is “unusable” for grain farmers across the country

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The point of risk assurance programs is preparedness. When they are needed, they need to be ready to go. Today, they are underfunded and unprepared and this is a major concern for farmers.

Sixty-one per cent of Ontario grain farmers are worried about their farm’s ability to survive this economic downturn.

But we aren’t alone.

All of Canadian agriculture is absolutely aligned on the need to protect farmers, so they can continue to grow food for Canada and the world. The best first step to do that is to look at AgriStability, a business risk management program cost-shared by farmers and governments.

There is unprecedented unity in the request for AgriStability to be triggered at 85 per cent with no reference margin (profit history) limit. This is necessary for many farmers to absorb recent volatility and to ensure the industry is prepared for future impacts.

In 2012, the federal government cut the AgriStability program leaving grain and oilseed farmers without price insurance. For eight years, farmers have been woefully under-supported at the federal level, leaving them to take on all the risk and economic losses, while year after year continuing to harvest their crops to ensure national food security.

Farmers take on uncontrollable risk – and they can be impacted at any time by volatile markets that are triggered by pandemics, geopolitics, and foreign government subsidies. That is the role of risk management programs. They are not ad hoc payment programs, they are insurance that can be used to counter the effects of volatility.

Former American President John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” Abraham Lincoln, another American president said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” These two quotes capture the purpose of our continued ask of government regarding risk management programs and what the alignment of groups across the country means for the momentum of these requests.

Unity

Recently, Grain Farmers of Ontario has joined with Producteurs de grains du Québec and the Atlantic Grains Council to petition the government for AgriStability changes.

In late October, more than 45 agriculture groups from across Canada asked the Treasury Board to approve any submissions that bring the program back to 85 per cent with no reference margin limit. Additionally, the AgGrowth Coalition, which includes six commodity organizations has also reinforced this ask.

The 85 per cent ask is the level that grain farmers across the country actually need. The programs are useless to grain farmers at lower levels.

Preparedness

AgriStability is truly about protecting domestic food security, not about holding a plebiscite every time there is a market shock.

These programs need to be returned to useful levels in order to be prepared for future market volatility.

In 2016, the Liberal government included this in their election platform: “To ensure that farmers have access to the help they need when they need it, we will move forward with a collaborative review of Canada’s business risk management programs, with a special focus on Agri-Stability, and are prepared to increase federal support to farmers to help them manage risks beyond their control.”

We are at a point of unprecedented alignment in the grain and oilseed industry in support of AgriStability reform. Our current programs are unusable. This is the time for change, and we will continue to push for that change.

Sustainable agriculture in Canada is necessary as it not only feeds Canadians, it also accounts for more than one in eight jobs in the country and contributes $100 billion to the economy every year. However, the economic pillar is crumbling.

Markus Haerle is chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario.

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