Everyone has a different opinion on the provincial budget’s agriculture portfolio.
Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture saw funding increase $155.7 to $483.4 million. Now, there is only $390 million set aside.
The difference of $93 million is the largest drop in the entire budget. The government maintains this isn't a cut, but rather reflects projected good times on the farm, meaning less money will be needed for income stabilization. Meanwhile the opposition says money is being "yanked" during a downturn.
Saskatchewan Ag Minister Bob Bjornerud. Photo courtesy of www.saskparty.com
“This isn’t a cut, there are no cuts to programming whatsoever,” said Saskatchewan Agricultural Minister Bob Bjornerud. “It’s just the dollars that are requested for these programs are quite a bit lower than last year.”
Business risk management saw the biggest reduction. Of the $93 million loss, $60 million comes from stabilization programs such as AgriStability, AgriInvest and Crop Insurance premiums.
Agriculture Canada is projecting good crops this year. Therefore, both programs will need less funding this year.
AgriStability pays producers when their revenues fall below 85 per cent for three to five years. AgriInvest allows farmers to save by making contributions to a savings account, which are then matched by the government.
David Marit, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), isn’t worried.
“We thought it was a very good budget for agriculture in Saskatchewan,” said Marit. “If you have a drought three years in a row, you’re still going to be maintained. On that part, we’re pretty happy.”
Opposition leader, Dwain Lingenfelter, is not so sure.
“$93 million is being yanked out of agriculture at the time when there should be money being put in,” he said. “Agriculture’s been doing well, but now there is a downturn. The price of grain is dropping like a rock.”
He thinks the provincial government should put more towards stabilization, regardless of the predictions.
Greg Dow agrees. He has been farming just outside of Craik for over 30 years and describes the programs as doing too little, too late.
“AgriStability is just like the little dutch boy with his finger in the dike,” said Dow. “It’s a band-aid solution that throws money at the problem and hopes that it gets fixed.”
Last year, Dow contributed to AgriInvest – and received “nothing compared to the expense of things.”
“I sent $380 and (the government) said I could take $760 out,” he said. “On almost 3,000 acres of land, what does $760 buy you? Only about 20 acres of weed spray.”
Dow would rather see funding go towards reviewing AgriStability and AgriInvest or giving farmers a break on freight rates.
Marit said that both programs do need to be looked at. But since they are federal-provincial programs, Saskatchewan can’t do it alone.
“It’s definitely time to look at things that just aren’t working and see how we can make them better,” Marit said. “We need to strike a committee and the feds would have to be there too.”
“I’m not saying (farmers) are happy today,” said Bjornerud. “But rather, they’re satisfied.”