Dear Minster Bibeau,
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has been taking part in the Roundtable calls being held three times per week with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). Thank you for hosting these calls, as they provide much-needed cross-sectoral information as well as direct contact with your government.
Sectors of society that were already under stress disproportionately feel the new stresses caused by COVID-19, and so it is with Canada’s farming sector. Canada’s farming sector has been under severe financial stress for 35 years with farmers retaining only 5% of the value from the 1.5 trillion dollars-worth of food that they have produced.
During these Roundtable calls, AAFC has made it clear that it is easier to work through existing programs whenever possible. Improving and/or adapting these programs can take some financial pressure off some farmers in the short term, but it must be recognized that extensive rebuilding and rethinking of the existing Business Risk Management (BRM) programs is needed to improve Canada’s food security and address vulnerabilities now highlighted by the COVID-19 related problems.
With this in mind, we are requesting that the AgriStability program be reconfigured to the parameters used prior to 2013 — before the Harper government drastically reduced the potential benefits to farmers who use the program. Requiring a larger income drop (formerly 15% and now 30%) to trigger program payments, and capping the reference margin to the lesser of the historical reference margin or the average allowable expenses caused many farmers to drop out of the program so that now, less than one-third of Canada’s farmers enroll. Canada’s farmers who are enrolled in AgriStability are more susceptible to financial distress caused by the COVID-19 problems as a result. Returning to a 15% margin loss trigger and reference margin cap are improvements that can be accomplished and implemented quickly without waiting for other programs details to be developed.
We would also strongly discourage any changes to the AgriStability program that would encourage farmers to use private for-profit insurance schemes. Encouraging or forcing farmers to rely on private insurance providers would continue to erode farmers’ net farm income beyond its already insupportable low levels.
The NFU has noticed that the Government of BC took action in early February 2020 to augment AgriStability in the way we are suggesting. While their measures will help BC farmers to some extent, rebuilding AgriStability on nationally would rapidly enhance the program and dovetail with the recent announcements designed to relax credit requirements for Canada’s farmers.
The NFU’s policy positions developed over the past 50 years all promote a stable domestic food production system for Canada based on the well-being of Canada’s farm families. COVID-19 is now helping all Canadians to understand the value of a strong family farming sector. We are hopeful that all of government will now take steps to enable Canada’s family farms to thrive and plan for the future.
Vice President (Operations)
National Farmers Union