Woodlawn’s Ward speaks to House of Commons on business risk management

OTTAWA – The National Farmers Union (NFU) president, Woodlawn sheep farmer Katie Ward, urged the House of Commons Agriculture and Agri-Food committee to support changes to business risk management in the face of disruptions such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week (March 10) Ward urged the committee to support changes to Business Risk Management programs that will support a robust food system in Canada that can deliver both production and fair incomes in the face of shocks and disruptions such as the COVID-19 crisis and increasingly erratic weather conditions.

“All farmers want to make a good living by farming,” Ward said. “We do not seek government handouts – in fact, when you look up self-reliance in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a Canadian farmer. Business Risk Management programs are the backstops necessary to enable farmers to continue farming in the face of unexpected bad harvests, low prices and unexpected events. We note that when we lose farmers to one or two bad seasons, we lose not only their production, but the skills and knowledge these farmers hold.”

Ward shared information illustrating the stagnation of farmers’ realized net income over the past three decades, even while total revenues have gone up.

“It might be obvious, but the lack of adequate net income leaves Canadian farmers increasingly vulnerable to market fluctuations, weather-related yield reductions, and rising input costs,” Ward said. “We need BRM programs that are equitable and work effectively.”

Ward urged the committee to recommend the following changes:    

  • Return the AgriStability trigger to 15 per cent of reference margin and eliminate its eligible expenses cap;
  • Make crop insurance (AgriInsurance) more responsive to the impacts of climate change and improve coverage to make it more useful for smaller and more diversified farms;
  • Simplify and streamline application processes to make BRMs more accessible, particularly for new and young farmers.

Ward also encouraged the government to make economic stability and adequate net farm incomes a high priority as a way to help keep down the cost of BRM programs. She also highlighted the importance of the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) for the incomes of grain farmers. The CGC is both a watchdog to prevent grain and railway companies from taking advantage of farmers and it safeguards our grain exports’ quality so it can command a high price from export customers.