By Connor Lynch
Before farmers can get help from the federal government, the government wants them to use the estimated $2.3 billion sitting in AgriInvest accounts. Averaged out across farms, that’s around $28,000, according to the feds.
But the injury inflicted by COVID-19 has not been averaged out across
the industry, nor did all industries come into the crisis at the same
OFA president Keith Currie said that the $28,000 average recently released by the federal government is, if not useless, close enough. “I’m looking at my own account with $500 in it,” he told Farmers Forum. Similarly, the beef and pork organizations have been vocal about the strain they’ve been under, he said. “They’re telling us that their members have been draining those accounts.” So that average is likely created by farmers in some sectors having plenty in their accounts because they haven’t been hammered by COVID-19, Currie said, balanced by producers with little or nothing in their accounts because they’ve already drained those accounts or weren’t using them in the first place. Enrollment in the whole suite of Business Risk Management is low because they aren’t useful to farmers, Currie argued, and the industry in general has been pushing for reform for years.
“So just to blatantly say everyone has this sitting in their accounts isn’t fair.” Not to mention that while farmers are perhaps being expected to drain their accounts before asking for government assistance, that’s not true for other people. Said Currie: “Were people asked to drain their bank accounts before applying for CERB?” At the very least, further clarity from the feds on that number — which sectors have more, or less, in their accounts — would help refine industry’s focus. “They’re just not being terribly forthcoming.”
AgriInvest works like this. Producers can put in money equal to their net sales (roughly), and the government will chip in one per cent of it. Producers can take it out when and how they wish. It’s a joint federal-provincial program, with the respective governments splitting the cost 60-40 everywhere except Quebec, where the province alone takes it on. There’s no limit on how much you can take out of the program, but you can’t have more than four times your average net sales from the last three years. It was designed to help producers “manage small income declines and make investments to manage risk and improve market income,” according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s website.
Part of the current problem is reluctance by the government to funnel funding into a permanent program to resolve what is ultimately a temporary crisis, Currie said. Conversations around repairing the Business Risk Management programs have been ongoing for some time and they’re something the feds are amenable to, but they’re ultimately discussions the government wants to have post-COVID-19, he said.
But in the meantime producers are hurting, and AgriInvest is a ready-built system to get cash into the hands of producers that need it, he said. “It’s a case of not re-inventing the wheel.” Explicitly designed to get cash into producers’ hands, it’s a ready-made mechanism to support the farm sector with ad hoc payments, which the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has been calling for. Rather than making a new program, like the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) that has made direct payments to millions of Canadians, the feds could use something already built and ready to go.