The extension of marked fuel to all farm plated vehicles was the major win for the agriculture community in the 2020-2021 provincial budget.
A long standing ask by the farm community, the announcement fulfils a Dennis King campaign promise. Currently, marked fuel can only be used in tractors or combines or other farm vehicles that are used predominately off-road. The cost of the measure has been pegged at $1.2 million.
"This is something our organization has been advocating for a long time and we are happy it is finally happening," said Robert Godfrey, the executive director of the PEI. Federation of Agriculture. "It will be a big help to producers as they deal with the impact of COVID-19. "
The women's district director of the National Farmers Union agrees. Edith Ling said the measure is long overdue and will have a positive impact on all types of farming operations.
Godfrey said he was not surprised at the record deficit of $172.7 million, saying the reality of COVID-19 means the government has to help all sectors of the economy recover from the impact of the virus while preparing for the possibility of a second wave.
The budget of the Department of Agriculture and Land has been increased by $2 million to $39.5 million, with most of the increase in the form of a contingency fund to cover extra expenses related to COVID-19.
Ling said she was surprised the pledge for consultations on a revised Lands Protection Act included a promise to create a land bank. As a good first step, she said the province should release a report it hired researcher Kevin J. Arsenault to complete on the topic. Arsenault, a long time organic farmer and a candidate in the last Progressive Conservative leadership race, handed the report to Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy Minister Steven Myers earlier this year but the document has yet to be made public.
"What is the government hiding?" Ling asked. "The public deserves to see the recommendations."
Godfrey said he was pleased with the $300,000 to enhance the Pollination Expansion Project to grow the Island bee population, $50,000 to modernize the Animal Health Act, $1 million for a Climate Challenge Fund, $2 million for a Solar Incentive Rebate Program and the creation of a Soil Health Development Coordinator in the Department. He noted the reduction in the Small Business Tax Rate from 3% to 2% will also benefit the industry.
The budget also makes a $1.8 million commitment to the school food program beginning in July. Since school closed in March, over 6,000 meals have been delivered to the homes of students each week. The program will begin within schools in September.
In announcing the Climate Challenge Fund, Finance Minister Darlene Compton said it is designed to "generate the best ideas from communities, First Nations, academic partners, sectors and businesses that address ways to mitigate and adapt to climate pressures."
The budget also pledges $250,000 to the Watershed Management Fund that will directly support the work of 24 watershed groups across the province through habitat rehabilitation and enhancement, outreach and education, as well as monitoring and research.