All commodity groups need ongoing risk management

By MPP Toby Barrett

Farmers across Ontario, as well as those of us in Opposition, have been calling on the government to implement a permanent Business Risk Management Program for all commodity groups – not just grain and oilseeds.

Over the last year, MPP’s have heard the Ontario Agriculture Sustainability Coalition (OASC) proposal for a Risk Management Program (RMP) to provide a greater amount of predictability for farm incomes.

After months of waiting, and working, by farmers advocating a Business Risk Management for all sectors, the McGuinty government announced a slim one year extension – solely for grain and oilseeds.

Since provincial agriculture ministers met in July and recognized the failure to support farmers, the 12-month extension was the very least Ontario could do. RMP has given eligible farmers the ability to insure against market prices falling below production costs, in large part a one-year extension – coincidentally expiring just before the provincial election. But a one year extension contributes little to the very predictability and bankability RMP was designed to provide.

Instead of providing farmers with a predictable, bankable program the Ontario Government seems to play games – making farmers wait seven months before announcing an extension and then only extending it for one year.

The need for comprehensive programming was clear at the Federal/Provincial/Territorial (FPT) Agriculture Ministers’ meeting where delegates acknowledged that overall today’s support programs do not address real market risk. While it’s important to recognize the current suite of federal-provincial agriculture programs are not working as intended, without action to change the situation, farmers will continue to face negative margins and tough decisions. We see this in all commodities – beef, pork, hort… well as corn, soybeans and wheat.

In Ontario, rather than play the finger-pointing game and then wonder why the federal government won’t come to the table, it’s time for the province to show leadership. To that end, the Ontario Agricultural Sustainability Coalition has recently stated, “Until the FPT Ministers decide on adopting predictable and bankable programs nationally the OASC is calling on Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Mitchell to step up and invest in Ontario’s farmers by funding the programs developed here in Ontario without waiting for the federal government to act.”

Ontario Federation of Agriculture President, Bette Jean Crews added that, “It is imperative that Ontario supports its farm businesses and rural communities through leadership on this risk management file.”

As Opposition MPP Jim Wilson explained in the Ontario Legislature, “the Business Risk Management Program will cover the difference, if any, between the average market price and a floor price based on the cost of producing each commodity……Farmers will pay a premium covering 30% of the program cost in order to participate, and governments will pay the remaining 70% share. Farmers who don’t sign up will not benefit.”

Farmers continue to point out that while government is often there for support in the wake of weather-related disasters, like the recent floods in Saskatchewan, market driven disasters lead to the same results – weakened farm families, more farm debt and an ongoing decline in rural Ontario.

Regardless of the reason for slow progress on the national front, the province must step up to the plate on behalf of farmers across Ontario – with more than just a 12 month extension on a sector specific RMP program.