by SUSAN MANN
Several Ontario commodity groups are working out details on revisions to the province’s risk management program plus how to divvy up its $100 million annual capped budget. Their goal is to have the revisions complete by mid fall.
The Ontario Commodity Working Group, made up of Ontario Pork, Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency, Ontario Veal Association, and Grain Farmers of Ontario, submitted a proposal to revise the provincial risk management program in mid July. (The Ontario government announced in March that the program is being capped at $100 million annually starting in 2013).
Ontario agriculture ministry spokesperson Susan Murray says by email that since receiving the proposal ministry officials have met with industry leaders to clarify it and examine the implications of any proposed adjustments. “We continue to work on a redesigned risk management program that will support farmers in ways that are predictable for both government and producers.”
She notes the redesigned program will be implemented beginning next year but details haven’t been finalized so it’s too early to talk about them.
The commodity working group’s chair, Amy Cronin, who’s also chair of Ontario Pork, wasn’t available for an interview but provided comments through Keith Robbins, Ontario Pork’s director of communications and consumer marketing.
Robbins says the proposal includes the different ways the program could work considering the $100 million cap. “Many of the commodities may be accessing those funds and pulling down out of that $100 million very quickly.”
Specific details within each option have yet to be determined, he says, noting negotiations continue and that’s why the options aren’t being released publicly.
Erin Fletcher, spokesperson for Grain Farmers of Ontario, says the proposal was the working group’s overview vision for the risk management program under the $100 million cap. The cap includes administration costs but not premiums.
The finalized details must go before Ontario’s Treasury Board in October and “that’s sort of the timeline that we’re working on,” she says.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales says part of the challenge in redesigning the program is how they’re going to deal with the premiums and with years when the demand is greater than the available money. “That’s what happens when you put a fence around a demand-driven program.”
The individual cattle, hogs, sheep, veal and grains and oilseeds risk management programs are based on a pilot price insurance program for grains and oilseeds introduced in 2007 and require producers to pay premiums. Farmers involved in edible horticulture use a self-directed program in which the province matches contributions (based on a small percentage of the farmer’s allowable net sales) to a special account.
Wales says he can’t release specific details but part of the proposal is an agreement that all the commodities covered will share the $100 million and “that’s a good thing.”
Earlier this summer Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin wrote to the Ontario Agricultural Commodity Council, a group made up of more than 25 commodity organizations, urging them to work together to redesign the program. In a July 5 email summarizing the letter, McMeekin’s press secretary Mark Cripps, says the minister was concerned with the attitude of resistance he was encountering rather than a more constructive approach. Neither the minister nor the council would release the letter publicly.
The minister’s three principles for a reformed risk management program outlined in the letter were: fiscal constraints, measurable benefits from public investment and leverage federal dollars, Cripps says.
McMeekin also told the council he is committed to working collaboratively and would prefer to do so with the collective guidance of the farm and commodity groups. And he continues to press federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to maintain an effective suite of national programs. BF