When and how will this money get into the hands of farmers?

Like the majority of Ontario farmers, I was impressed with the recent budget announced by the federal government. The Federal Government was going to make money available for Canadian farmers left financially wounded by repeated years of losses on farm produce sales – everything from grains, oilseeds and horticultural crops to livestock.

Finance Minister Flaherty announced 1.5 billion dollars, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Strahl appeared intent on keeping election promises to rejuvinate and revitalize the country’s ailing agriculture sector.

The question I and the rest of the country’s farmers now have is: when and how will this money get into the hands of farmers? Many farmers have already taken the leap of faith and planted crops – once again using credit that’s rapidly eroding. We need to be able to calculate how much we will receive and we need to be able to tell our suppliers when we can expect to see the cheque in the mail.

We have suppliers and other businesses waiting for payments on accounts, and knowing when this money will flow will be critical to the futures of their businesses and ours.

If most farmers are like me, they’re trying to unravel the government’s announced plans. We all acknowledge the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program doesn’t have a good track record for helping farmers in times of need. Then to hear the government’s plans to use CAIS for delivery of its budget allocations left me with yet more questions.

The only definitive part of this budget is the dollar values that were announced. Without knowing the details of delivery dates, and whether the requested flexibility for provincial administration is included, there are just too many questions left without answers.

Minister Strahl, in a recent news conference, demonstrated his understanding of the financial crisis farmers and their families are experiencing. He announced 950 million dollars, but details in the background paper accompanying the news release took much of the joy out of the announcement.

Payments won’t get to farmers until this fall, and the amount received will be a percentage based on inventory transition calculations and a 900-million-dollar spending cap. According to Minister Strahl, producers won’t need to apply – their funds will be calculated by federal and provincial CAIS administrations.

Cattle producers hit hard by BSE and the related border closures should benefit from Minister Strahl’s announcement that there will be no limit on the number of negative margin payments. Before, a producer could receive only two negative margin payments.

Another part of Minister Strahl’s announcement is probably not as good for producers as intended. Already facing difficulties with loan payments, the minister told us farmers can now borrow twice as much under the Enhanced Spring Credit Advance Program – a maximum of 100,000 dollars.

Granted, these loans are interest free, but without some indication of workable long-term safety net programs, how is a farmer to have confidence in being able to repay the loans?

We’re grateful for the minister’s willingness to help struggling farmers, but the time has come to start flowing funds to offset the disastrous price impacts agriculture experienced in 2005.

~Geri Kamenz~
Vice-President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Great news, what’s next?
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