Business & Policy
Drought’s damage provides a case study for future farm programs
By Mark Wales President Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Aug. 10, 2012 - The rainfall that is forecast for Ontario in the coming weeks is too little too late for many of the province’s farms. The drought has created a critical livestock feed shortage due to a double whammy of dormant pastures and low corn, soybean and hay yields. The situation speaks to the need for emergency relief for Ontario’s livestock farmers, and the continued need for programs that help all farmers manage such risks in the future.
Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has announced the creation of a task team with representatives from the federal government. The team will assess the extent of damage and consider support options for livestock farmers who are affected by dry conditions. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) will work with farm organizations across the province to provide our thoughts to the task team. The issue is a complex one. Some farmers will need to secure the finances to buy and storefeed over the winter months and / or consider options to reduce herd size. The need to swiftly get financial relief to the farmers who need it most will be a top priority.
The drought also provides a timely case study to see how well agricultural programs that are currently in place meet the needs of Ontario farmers in times such as these. The programs intended to help farmers manage finances when they are faced with circumstances beyond theircontrol are called “business risk management programs.” Those programs are on the chopping block and may not be available in their current form as early as next year. The OFA has already voiced concerns that such cuts will shift a disproportionate amount of the financial risk of growing food directly to farmers, and we will continue to press for bankable programs.
When the federal-provincial task team decides emergency support is available it will be funnelled through AgriRecovery, aprogram that exists to fill in the gaps left after existing programs are tapped. Maintaining and strengthening existing programs will be vital to helping farmers manage the devastating effects of disasters such as drought. It reminds us that, despite Ontario farmers doing everything to the best of their abilities, sometimes Mother Nature chooses not to cooperate. When food production suffers due to circumstances beyond the control of good farm management, there is an acute need for programs that help shelter farmers, and all the Ontario jobs that rely on us.