Business risk management programs have been news items again in the farm press, and with farm organizations and commodity groups. That’s no surprise in such an unpredictable year. Things need to improve for grain and oilseed farmers, and governments are dragging their feet.
I used to smile and beam when I saw something former federal Liberal agriculture minister Eugene Whalen said or did. I heard him in person a number of times. I also had a lot of respect for his successor, John Wise, who was the Conservative agriculture minister for five years.
But that was 45 years ago and I was young and I looked up to these men with respect. It’s so different now that I’m older and wiser. Now I grin and growl when I see or read something from our present day Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau. I didn’t think highly of Lawrence MacAulay either, when he was the minister, and MacAulay was a former dairy farmer. Ms. Bibeau doesn’t know a hoot about agriculture and doesn’t grasp the fact that grain farmers are facing tough times.
Grain farmers are adamant that Ms. Bibeau was wrong when she said during the summer that grain farmers were, at most, paying $819 a year in carbon tax to dry their grain and corn, so they don’t need a break on the federal carbon tax.
“The estimates range from $210 to $819 per farm and 0.05 per cent to 0.42 per cent of total farm operating expenses,” Bibeau said in a news conference.
Markus Haerle, chair of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, says the carbon-tax bill for drying corn from his 800-hectare farm in St. Isidore, was $8,500 last fall and he is not alone.
If Trudeau were serious about the agriculture portfolio, he would have appointed a person with an agricultural background like his papa did in 1972, when he made the folksy Eugene the minister of agriculture.
Markus Haerle was right on when he said 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. He said they are not ad hoc payment programs; they are insurance programs that can be used to counter the effects of volatility.
In 2012, the federal government cut the AgriStability program leaving grain and oilseed farmers without price insurance. I was a victim of the cuts. I dug up a copy of a letter I sent to Rick Jefferson of Agricorp in June of 2013.
In 2012 Eastern Ontario experienced a very severe drought. Crops were poor. Income was down, but I did not qualify for Agrilnvest and AgriStability. The program hasn’t worked for farmers for a while and the proof is right there for the governments to see: by the gradual decline in farmer enrollment.
Here’s what I wrote to Agricorp at the time: “First I get a letter from Agrilnvest dated May 2, 2013 that I am not eligible to make a matchable deposit and receive matching government contributions for the 2012 program year because my income from farm products was under $5,000. My income from cattle sales was only $2,634.
“Then on June 10, 2013 I get a letter from Agricorp stating: ‘This year, your production margin was greater than 85 per cent of your margin. As a result, you did not generate a 2012 AgriStability benefit.’
“I can’t believe it! What would I have to do to be eligible to generate a benefit? My sales were too low. I don’t qualify for government matching contributions. And you tell me my production margin was greater than 85 per cent of my reference margin.
“I don’t want to be involved in either program anymore. Please cancel me and maybe you could send me back the administration fee and the registration fee I sent in last month. These programs don’t help farmers in the terrible drought year we had in 2012.”
Markus Haerle, in a recent opinion article, said that for eight years, farmers have been woefully under-supported at the federal level, leaving them to take on all the risk and the economic losses, while year after year continuing to harvest their crops to ensure national food security.
He said sixty-one per cent of Ontario grain farmers are worried about their farm’s ability to survive this economic downturn.
Recently, Grain Farmers of Ontario joined with grain farmers in Quebec and the Atlantic Grains Council to petition the government for AgriStability changes, and to raise awareness about American farm subsidies for grain farmers.
Grain and oilseed farmers in the U.S. are receiving $32 billion in direct subsidies from the Trump government.
Risk management was a priority issue for discussion at the November meetings of federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture. Ms. Bibeau is concerned that fiscal constraints among some provinces will affect improvements to AgriStability, which is a federal and provincial cost-share program.
You bet. Foot dragging again!
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew County farmer growing 295 acres of crops.