Mary Robinson

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A number of industry groups from across the country are urging the provincial and territorial ministers to accept a proposal from their federal counterpart as a first step towards improving the business risk management component of the Canadian Agricultural Program.

The topic came up repeatedly during a year-end town hall meeting with agricultural journalists from across the country held just before Christmas by the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. The virtual session also included representatives from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Canadian Pork Council, Grain Growers of Canada and the Canadian Horticultural Council.

During a virtual meeting with her colleagues, Bibeau proposed eliminating the reference margin limit and increasing the AgriStability compensation rate from 70% to 80%. Taken together, she noted these changes would increase the overall amount AgriStability pays out to farmers by 50%. The program is cost shared 60-40 with the provinces with Ottawa picking up the lion's share.

PEI announced last spring it was increasing the provincial portion of AgriStability to 85 per cent for the 2020 and 2021 program years. The province will also pay the provincial portion of removing the Reference Margin Limit.

"We need the changes to the Business Risk Management program proposed by the federal minister," said Bob Lowe, the president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

He said Canadian cattle producers started 2020 with great promise but processing capacity proved to be a major challenge, especially when some larger plants in Ontario and the west were forced to shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

While markets did dry up in the early days of the pandemic, by year end he said demand for beef had increased by seven per cent over the previous year and there were nine million pounds of the certified sustainable beef sold both in the Canadian and export markets.

Meanwhile, the chair of the Canadian Pork Council said 2020 was shaping up to be a tough year even before the arrival of the pandemic. Rick Bergmann explained deteriorating trade relations between Canada and China made it challenging to sell to the world's most populated country in the first few months of the year. However, just before the pandemic hit full force, the situation was improving as an outbreak of African swine fever in China cut into the domestic hog supply.

Bergmann estimated the income of Canadian hog producers fell more than 140 per cent during the year and he said the industry needs a government backstop to survive. He called Bibeau's proposal a good first step adding "we are just asking for a back stop so producers don't have to put their farms at risk for something that is outside their control. Canadians have to be reminded it is family farms that feed cities."

The new chair of Grain Growers of Canada said that commodity was also facing challenges pre-pandemic due to a rail strike and a blockade of rail lines in Ontario in support of the Wet'suwet'en Nation. Andre Harp added "some of our challenges were made worse by COVID and others are as old as time."

Rebecca Lee also threw the support of the Canadian Horticultural Council behind the Bibeau proposal. The group's executive director said last year was "challenging" and COVID made it harder to ensure temporary workers could enter the country and that all workers were safe.

"The government made significant investments to help producers keep their workers safe and we are so grateful," Lee noted.

Meanwhile, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said the industry can play a significant role in the economic recovery when the pandemic is finally in the rear view mirror. Mary Robinson said agriculture has the potential for "explosive growth" as they feed people at home and abroad.

She agreed trade wars and climate changes were challenging producers like never before even before the virus arrived. The former president of the PEI Federation of Agriculture added "COVID has shown how inadequate AgriStability is-- changing the program is the most important thing that governments could do to assist the industry."

She said the changes would give the industry confidence to invest in the industry. Bob Lowe agreed saying that lack of confidence is discouraging new people from entering the industry. Rick Bergmann of the Pork Council added "if we are going to see confidence return to the pork industry, AgriStability has to be fixed."

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