by SUSAN MANN
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has agreed to join Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin at meetings with provincial farmers to talk about their ideas for business risk management programs.
McMeekin says they’ll be setting up the meetings in the next few days “because we want to make sure we do it.” Details, such as where and when they’ll be held, who will be invited, and how many meetings will be scheduled, still have to be worked out.
McMeekin extended the invitation to Ritz to join him in meeting with Ontario farmers at the federal, provincial, territorial agriculture ministers’ meeting Friday in Toronto. The meeting was held so the ministers could talk about Growing Forward 2, the next national agricultural policy framework that will replace the current one when it expires March 31, 2013.
Ritz has already been at some meetings with Ontario farmers, for example in Oxford and Simcoe-Grey, to get their input on agricultural policies and talk about how his government is creating economic growth and prosperity. Local MPs have been hosting those round-table discussions.
But McMeekin says he’s anxious to attend meetings together with Ritz. “We want to make sure we’re both hearing the same set of messages,” McMeekin says.
Business risk management programs, such as AgriStability, AgriInvest, AgriRecovery and AgriInsurance, are part of the national Growing Forward policy framework. Some Ontario farm groups are concerned about possible government proposals to cut funding to programs like AgriStability.
McMeekin said in an interview Friday afternoon after the meeting he can’t reveal any specific details of the talks because the provincial, territorial and federal agriculture ministers all agreed to keep their comments general. For example, McMeekin can’t say specifically what the other new ideas are that were put on the table and who proposed them. But the provinces will explore those ideas and crunch the numbers.
He also didn’t say if proposed cuts to AgriStability were discussed. But he did say no final decisions were made at Friday’s meeting and talks will continue.
Ritz confirmed by email that no decisions were made and the ministers are still aiming to sign a new framework by the fall. “We will continue to consult with industry and discuss various options with our provincial and territorial colleagues in the lead up to signing the next framework.”
Ritz says “building on what the industry has already told us, governments are currently looking at ways to ensure the continuation of a robust safety net system and better help the sector become more competitive over the long term.”
Asked how he’d characterize Friday’s meeting, McMeekin says he’s very pleased.
The ministers talked about the whole suite of business risk management programs and “agreed the suite needed to continue,” he says. “We need to review just how best to do that.”
McMeekin says Ontario farmers are looking for an effective suite of business risk management programs. The ministers all agreed at Friday’s meeting that’s important to their farmers too.
The ministers also agreed the next Growing Forward agreement has to be flexible “as to account for various provinces’ attributes and abilities to invest in provincial priorities in recognition that not all ag sectors are the same across the country,” he says.
They also agreed the process to establish specific details needs to be more transparent “and include a more fulsome stakeholder input,” he says, noting Ontario and other provinces strongly supported that idea. But McMeekin says he shouldn’t say what other provinces supported the idea as “we kind of have an agreement not to say too much about that.” BF