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Grain growers rip Ottawa’s “flexibility” plan

A Quebec and Ontario grain growers’ group says the federal government’s proposed “flexibility” plan for farmers won’t amount to much without a business risk management component.

The Ontario-Quebec Grain Farmers’ Coalition on Thursday reacted to Tuesday’s federal budget by saying it’s “disappointed that (Ottawa) intends to launch a flawed program that will do nothing to improve the long-term viability of the family farm.”

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty pledged $500 million for an ag flexibility plan, but just $190 million for the first two years, to be funded from “existing unallocated Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada resources,” the grain group said.

Ottawa’s agricultural flexibility plan is meant to help farmers develop new technologies and promote environmental sustainability, according to the budget.

“It will drive innovation, environmental change, marketing opportunities and we’re looking for new and better ways to control input costs,” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said at the time.

Flaherty’s funding pledge for the Conservatives’ “flexibility” plan followed calls in recent months from groups such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) for a federally-funded “AgriFlex” program that would have allowed provinces and territories the flexibility to distribute money according to their requirements.

The OQGFC, which said Thursday it helped the CFA design its AgriFlex proposal, added that Ritz had promised Jan. 23 the budget would contain a new program “similar in nature” to CFA’s AgriFlex.

OQGFC president William Van Tassel said Thursday that the federal government has passed up “an opportunity to become a full partner in helping establish a sustainable business environment for family farmers.”

Quebec and Ontario, Van Tassel said, have been going it alone providing income safety nets for affected farmers. Quebec set up the ASRA program while the Ontario government runs the grains and oilseeds Risk Management Program (RMP).

Business risk management (BRM) programs such as ASRA and RMP are “essentially insurance programs,” the group said, and are “the preferred solution for farmers facing volatile market conditions and rising, uncertain input costs.

The risk is shared “in a fair way” and farmers can thus plan for the future, the grain growers’ group said. Without such BMR programs, “family farming would be a hopeless venture in which only losses would be guaranteed.”

By excluding BMR programming from its proposal, the government is breaking its election promise, the grain growers’ group said. “They are making it difficult for the provinces to maintain existing programs, and impossible for them to start new ones.”

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