OTTAWA — It’s the biggest money-spending budget in the country’s history, with $143-billion in new spending, and there was lots there for Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Numerous farming organizations were pleased that the first budget in more than two years, addressed a variety of concerns.
The 739-page budget comes with a heavy focus on the pandemic and mitigating climate change. Federal Agriculture Minister, Marie Claude Bibeau told Farmers Forum that agriculture and agri-food are positioned to be leaders in the battle with climate change. “We know farmers are key,” she said. “We want to be there to support them.”
COVID-19 lockdowns have had a dramatic impact on some sectors of agriculture, said Bill George, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, which was looking for extended help with the temporary foreign worker program. More than 60,000 temporary foreign workers come to Canada annually to work on more than 4,000 farming operations. “It’s quite expensive to pay (temporary foreign workers) for two weeks while they quarantine,” he said. The proposed $57.6 million will help with those costs and George appreciates the support, “But the program should be maintained at its current level until the Quarantine Act is lifted.”
The program is expected to wind up in August 2021.
Canadian grain growers have been calling for some relief for their operations which rely on propane and natural gas for drying their crops. About $100 million in direct payments will go to farmers this year with an increase as the price of carbon rises.
“It gives us some relief,” said Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Brendan Byrne “but we we’re hoping for a full exemption as seen in Bill C-206.”
The Bill was brought forward by Northumberland-Peterborough South Conservative MP Philip Lawrence.
Byrne is looking forward to seeing specifics about the $200-million Agriculture Climate Solutions Program which targets programs that reduce emissions. “Farmers are the original environmentalists,’ he said.
That refrain is echoed by Jennifer Babcock, of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. “We do things already that are beneficial for climate change.” By far the biggest chorus of applause from the agriculture sector was over the addition of $1 billion to improve high speed broadband access in rural and remote communities. “If anything, the pandemic has shown the need for access to reliable internet across Canada” Babcock said.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is pleased with many initiatives in the 2021 Federal budget. VP and Simcoe vegetable and flower grower Keith Currie is optimistic. “We’re encouraged by initiatives in it.”