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Grain commissions: Government funding fails to address long-term issues


May 6, 2020
By Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions

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The Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions are disappointed in the federal government’s failure to address the long-standing issues farmers were already facing before COVID-19 including global trade uncertainty and ineffective Business Risk Management (BRM) programs.

These issues are compounded by the fact that many farmers are still recovering from the harvest from hell when they should be focused on seeding the 2020 crop.

The commissions’ reaction follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of $252 million for the agri-food sector, all directed toward short-term solutions specific to COVID-19 and none of which addresses challenges – short- or long-term – faced by the grain sector.

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“Before the pandemic hit, grain farmers’ viability was already seriously threatened by trade uncertainty and extremely difficult harvest conditions of the 2019 crop, all without the support of an effective risk management program,” said Todd Hames, Alberta Wheat Commission chair. “Now we are seeing a significant federal investment directed only at short-term solutions, and none of which will support the issues grain farmers were already facing.”

“Grain farmers not asking for band-aid solutions,” said Dave Bishop, Alberta Barley chair. “We need programs that allow us to withstand major shocks to our incomes and ongoing risks beyond our control, including trade, weather and global pandemics without having to resort to ad-hoc solutions.”

While the commissions acknowledge that other agri-food sectors have been harder hit by COVID-19, improvements to the AgriStability program would have provided meaningful solutions to already existing issues affecting farm viability. The commissions, along with our Team Alberta counterparts – Alberta Canola and the Alberta Pulse Growers – and other Canadian farm groups including the Grain Growers of Canada, have long pressed for improvements to AgriStability, including the removal of reference margin limits and a return to 85 per cent AgriStability coverage.

Farmers are also concerned that the current shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will make it impossible to complete their work in a safe environment. While farmers are not asking for financial assistance for PPE access, many on-farm tasks require it for Occupational Health and Safety compliance as well as personal protection.