The AgriStability program was once a key program for Alberta farmers, designed to protect them against large declines in farming income. Iconic Albertan cattle ranchers and grain farmers were especially reliant on it, as a guaranteed backstop should they face a bad year. It accounted for millions of dollars in the pockets of farmers who needed it the most.
However, farmers were blindsided in 2012 when the previous federal Conservative government cut AgriStability. The cuts included a “Reference Margin Limit,” which limits payments and makes the program too complex. Farmers have become increasingly frustrated there is no predictability on receiving payment. As a result, most farmers do not even bother signing up for the program any more. They don’t believe it’s worth their time or money.
Recently, the federal agriculture minister proposed to improve the program by removing the “Reference Margin Limit” and increasing the compensation rate back up to 80 per cent. These proposed fixes to AgriStability would produce $170 million in direct support payments to farmers annually. Alberta farmers would enjoy a substantial financial boost by receiving a significant amount of those support dollars.
To make these changes happen, the federal government need provinces to agree to pay their 40 per cent share. Provinces across Canada are agreeing, and it has come down to the Prairie governments to step up in support of their farmers.
Prairie farmers are urging their provincial governments to accept the deal, but the provincial government does not seem enthusiastic to repair this broken program. The provincial government has created the narrative the Trudeau administration doesn’t do anything for Albertans. But here is a tangible example of action by the Feds that would provide a huge benefit to Alberta. This precious opportunity for farmers may be sacrificed on the altar of politics.
Proper support programs are vital to the success of farmers and rural Alberta, as a whole. I worked with Farm Credit Canada and in agricultural finance, and I know the financial stress farmers can face. The provincial government must listen to farmers on this one, take the deal, and get this important AgriStability program back on track.
Ronald has had a long career in tax and finance, including at Farm Credit Canada, Canada Revenue Agency and the Government of Alberta. Ron was also the federal Liberal candidate for Sturgeon River-Parkland in the 2019 election.