by Melanie Taylor
It’s hard to find any farmer opposition to this year’s Agriculture budget. The ag budget increased by $32 million to $418 million in 2011-12, making it the second largest Agriculture budget ever for Saskatchewan.
But what has everyone talking is the 80 per cent reduction in education property tax on agricultural land, reducing the mill rate from 7.08 to 3.91. Ponteix-area rancher Eileen Davidson said the budget makes tax more equal between agricultural and residential land.
“Land tax is something we always fight to pay. Before, taxes weren’t equally split between cities and rural areas, and now it is correctly proportioned,” said Davidson.
Warren McNary, a Tompkins-area farmer, agreed with Davidson.
“Farmland has carried a lot of the burden of education taxes. We felt for years we were carrying more than our fair share,” he said.
Minister of Agriculture Bob Bjornerud said the response from farmers has been positive.
“This is something they’ve been asking for for the last 20 to 25 years and nothing had ever happened with that. Now we’re down just about to 80 per cent cheaper for producers than it was when we came into power,” said Bjornerud.
According to David Marit, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, the budget will benefit all Saskatchewan farmers.
“For an average farmer in rural Saskatchewan with 10 quarters of farm land with an assessment of $300,000, he’s going to see his taxes go from on average about $3,500 down to about $1,300. So it’s got a huge impact to the average farmer in Saskatchewan,” said Merit.
Other budget highlights include $320.8 million for farm income stabilization programs, including AgriStability, AgriInvest, and Crop Insurance.
Insurance of unseeded crop will increase from $50 to $70 per acre. While the portfolio for farm income stabilization programs, called Business Risk Management, is increasing in funding by $37.3 million, spending in other areas has decreased. There were nine line items in the ag budget, and only three of them saw increases in funding. Line items such as Land Management, Industry Assistance, and Financial Programs all dropped in funding from last year’s budget. Irrigation and Water Infrastructure saw the biggest decrease in funding of $1.9 million.
NDP leader and agriculture critic Dwain Lingenfelter is concerned that there is no money set asidefor the possibility of a major flood in the province.
“I think many farmers are going to be disappointed there isn’t a major plan,” he said, adding if there is a disaster, “It will raise the debt of the province even more, because they didn’t put any money in the budget even though they knew there was a good chance they were going to need it.”
But Finance Minister Ken Krawetz doesn’t think there will be a problem, indicating there is a $710 million surplus in the Financial Security Fund in case of disaster.
Bjornerud acknowledged he has some concerns about flooding, but he said it’s nothing that can be planned for.
“We know some areas are going to flood, so it’s kind of a wait-and-see attitude and see what comes down the pipe,” he said.
Above (top to bottom): Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud, SARM president David Marit, NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter
Photos by Deborah Shawcross and Noah Wernikowski