The federal ag minister specified the programs that will be funded by the $252-million investment
By Jackie Clark
After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $252-million aid package yesterday morning, federal ag minister Marie-Claude Bibeau provided details and clarification on the programs that will be funded with this investment.
The federal government developed this aid package through discussions with ag sectors and provinces to try to adapt the existing business management programs, and provide support where there were gaps, explained Bibeau.
“We’re trying to align our response to the problems … This is another step, it’s not the end,” she added.
The government encourages farmers to enrol in the existing AgriStability program, and the application deadline has been extended to July 3.
“Where the provinces have enacted the changes, producers can now access 75 per cent of their expected benefit, up from 50 per cent” and an online calculator tool is available, Bibeau said.
AgriRecovery emergency funding
A $125-million AgriRecovery investment was part of the package announced by Trudeau.
“AgriRecovery covers extraordinary costs paid by producers due to disaster,” Bibeau said. “The province or territory must normally make a request to the federal government for the program to be activated and the eligible costs are then shared 60 per cent by the federal government and 40 percent by the provincial government.”
The program “normally covers up to 70 per cent of eligible expenses – we are now making it up to 90 per cent. Due to unprecedented crisis and the meat processing backlog caused by temporary closures or slowdowns of plants, the federal government will make available its 60 per cent contribution in all provinces and territories whether the province contributes its share or not,” she explained.
As part of AgriRecovery “up to $50 million will serve as a set-aside program to help cattle producers cover the extra cost of keeping their animals on the farm while they wait to be processed. Up to another $50 million will be allocated to help pork producers cover the cost of managing their herd,” Bibeau said.
The other $25 million has been approved within the budget but not tied to a particular targeted program yet “and if we need more, we will be asking for more,” she added.
Federal officials will continue to work with the provincial and territorial governments, as they are responsible for administering this program.
Also, the federal government has asked the provinces and territories to include labour shortages as an eligible risk under AgriInsurance, given the workforce issues caused by COVID-19.
“We are all trying to find ways to reassure our horticulture, fruit and vegetable producers. We understand that (labour) is one of their biggest challenges right now,” Bibeau said. Over 11,000 temporary foreign workers arrived in Canada in April, compared to 13,000 in a normal year.
“We will keep working very hard” to ensure farmers have the labour they need, she said.
“Our food processors are vital to our food supply, and our economy and jobs. Across Canada, meat processing plants have slowed down production or temporarily closed as a result of the impact of COVID-19. Other food processors are facing the same challenges,” Bibeau said.
The federal government will provide $77.5 million of cost-share funding for improvements to the food processing sector.
“This funding will ensure we can expand our capacity for Canadian-made products, by adapting, modernizing and reopening plants that are closed or are operating under capacity. The funds will also help food processors to implement measures to protect the safety of their workers so they can continue production during the COVID crisis,” Bibeau explained.
The funding is retroactive to March 25. Government officials are still working on eligibility criteria “but the idea is to increase our processing capacity in Canada while also better protecting our workers,” she said.
The investment is focused on immediate support to address the current crisis, although increasing food processing capacity in Canada was already a government priority prior to COVID-19.
Oversupply of food
“Our investments today are also addressing increasing surplus production of food across Canada” due to food service closures, Bibeau said. “We will invest $50 million dollars in the first-of-its-kind food surplus purchase program to help with the purchase and distribution of surplus foods to organizations such as food banks.”
The government will also address oversupply in the dairy industry.
“To help manage the surplus of dairy products, we are proposing to increase the borrowing capacity of the Canadian Dairy Commission by $200 million” to help avoid milk dumping. The government will work to “achieve the required legislative change,” Bibeau said.
The overall amount of funding is significantly less than the $2.6 billion that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture was asking for to help the ag industry, and both Trudeau and Bibeau emphasized that this aid package is a first step, and if more help is needed, it will be provided.
“I care deeply about the well-being of our farmers and food production workers, and understand how stressful this period is for them. Their safety is paramount,” said Bibeau.
Read more about Trudeau's initial announcement here or the ag industry's reaction here.
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