Farm groups concerned about federal push to add climate-related objectives to crop insurance and other BRM programs

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

Several organizations that represent grain farmers from across Canada are raising concerns about the federal government’s push to add environmental incentives or criteria to business risk management (BRM) programs, such as crop insurance, AgriStability, or AgriInvest.

As part of the negotiations for Canada’s next five-year agricultural policy framework, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is urging her provincial counterparts to use BRM programs to drive the adoption of specific farm practices.

“We are looking at ways to see how can we use the business risk management programs in a way to provide incentives to farmers to adopt sustainable or good practices. This is something that is being considered,” Bibeau told RealAgriculture earlier this spring. “It’s still in the air, but as the federal minister, I’m trying to find every way that will help reduce our emissions.”

Several farm groups are speaking up against this proposal to introduce environmental cross-compliance to BRM programs.

“In our opinion, our strong opinion, business risk management programs need to be decoupled from the climate change and greenhouse gas emission agenda of the federal government, because business risk management programs are just that, they’re not climate emission reduction programs,” said Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, on the latest episode of RealAg Politics (watch/listen to the show here).

“[BRM programs] are designed to protect farmers when they have a significant disruption in their production. So to connect the two of those is a major issue for us.”

Deb Conlon, director of government relations with Grain Farmers of Ontario, described the effort to add climate objectives to BRM as “disappointing,” noting there has been no significant increases to the overall funding for BRM programs for at least a decade: “Harper cut it, on AgriStability, and now they want to get more out of it? It doesn’t seem like the time.”

Both Conlon and Steve said funding for climate-related programs must remain separate from the amount earmarked for BRM.

“When you’re a farmer, and you subscribe to a BRM program, it’s in order to offset your risks that you’re seeing, not to deliver on some other programs. So I think it would be best if they separated out that objective and funded it, because inserting it into everything loses the objective,” noted Conlon.

Watch Steve and Conlon’s comments from the June 3 episode of RealAg Politics.  (Scroll to read more.)

Steve stressed his groups’ number one priority for the next policy framework is to keep the current crop insurance program “whole.” That includes not adding new requirements that could increase the cost or reduce coverage for participating farms.

“We would like to see more funding to potentially offset the impact of the climate change and greenhouse gas emission policies of the Government of Canada. But I think that should be outside of the the business risk management program envelope,” said Steve. “The Government of Canada has made policy decisions that will or could fundamentally impact our competitiveness in global markets. No question about that.”

The issue of cross-compliance has also been discussed several times at the House of Commons agriculture committee over the past few weeks. Paul Samson, associate deputy minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, told the committee on May 19 that there’s already a mechanism in the FPT agreement to require farms have environmental farm plans.

“That is one of the discussions in the federal-provincial negotiations: How can those plans be used? Are they valuable to link to certain programs? What kinds of incentives can be created?” said Samson, noting environmental requirements for BRM programs “is very much one of the active conversations in the federal-provincial negotiations.”

Grain Growers of Canada executive director Erin Gowriluk also raised concerns about cross-compliance to MPs on the ag committee at a meeting in early May.

“We don’t want to see that become a barrier to entry with respect to the risk management programs that are so fundamentally critical to Canadian farmers across the country, especially at a time when they’re facing unprecedented risks,” said Gowriluk.

The federal government is also looking to add climate-related criteria to research funding under the next ag policy framework. Steve says his organizations were told at least 15 per cent of all research programs would have to meet federal emissions reduction objectives to qualify for funding.

“Talking to most crop groups in Canada, that is not an achievable objective,” he said.

Work is also underway on setting up the AgriScience research clusters for major agricultural commodities for the next five year agreement. The federal government has historically funded up to 70 per cent of the research done through the research clusters, with industry or commodity organizations providing the remainder.

“We’re being told that matching funding from the federal government will be 70-30 if it complies with their greenhouse gas emission and climate change goals, and it will be 50/50 if it does not,” said Steve.

The bottom line? “We’re being told loudly and clearly by the Government of Canada that a big part of the policy framework, the majority of it for that matter, is tied to their climate change and greenhouse gas emission reduction targets,” said Steve.

Federal and provincial ministers met last week to discuss the issues that still need to be sorted out for the next policy framework, including their positions on cross-compliance. Their annual agriculture ministers’ conference — where they hope to move ahead with a new five-year agreement to begin next year — will be held July 20-22 in Saskatoon, Sask.

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