Manitoba agriculture sector turns to Ottawa for more support

Dylan Williamson / Supplied

Manitoba’s agriculture sector is looking to the federal government for support on a wide variety of economic and socio-economic fronts in the years ahead.

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) has submitted a list of areas it thinks need to be addressed in the next Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), which will be renewed in 2023.

The federal government’s website describes the CAP as a “$3 billion five-year investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments to strengthen and grow Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector.”

KAP’s submission was sent to Manitoba’s Agriculture Minister, Blaine Pedersen, ahead of his meeting with federal, provincial and territorial counterparts in September.

Read more: Federal government wants answer from Prairies on AgriStability program

The submission includes areas like childcare, mental health support for farmers, infrastructure — particularly shortline railways — climate change, and labour.

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“This has significant importance for the ag industry because (CAP) lays the groundwork for some of the strategies and some of the issues that need to be addressed moving forward,” says KAP president Bill Campbell.

One of the areas of chief importance, Campbell says, is adapting the AgriStability program, which functions like insurance and protects farmers from sometimes volatile and unpredictable factors outside of their control, such as tariffs.

“We’ve seen some of the rail blockades, we’ve seen some of the global trading partners put restrictions — like the canola with Richardson and Viterra — those have impacted our farms tremendously,” Campbell says.

“Our partners to the south, it’s been thought that they have supported their producers to 40 per cent, well, we’re at four, so how do we compete globally with these trading partners?”

Read more: Prairie NDP leaders urge respective governments to sign AgriStability proposal in full

Campbell says the ag sector relies heavily on trade, yet many farmers — particularly younger or new producers — are finding it difficult to take part in the program since they don’t meet the eligibility criteria.

“Some sectors are really struggling to be able to participate, and we see a financial hit on them with COVID and other aspects that have shown up … (and) there has been a concerning trend of those not participating because the program isn’t working for them,” Campbell says.

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“So how do we encourage young producers to be involved in the industry if there’s no backstop when they face difficulty?”

Another key area for Manitoba’s farmers is connecting with a wider public that is increasingly removed from the food it consumes.

Campbell says there should be a renewed and expanded focus on educating Canadians about not only where food comes from, but its safety.

Read more: ‘Agriculture has carried on’ during the pandemic: Keystone Agriculture Producers

“I think we need to be able to have knowledge of nutritional aspects of our health moving forward and how part of our diet contributes to our healthy wellbeing, and not necessarily the cheapest food is the healthiest food,” Campbell says.

That could include taking a localized approach to nutrition education in the classroom, or expanding programs that allow people to visit farms and have discussions about what goes on on farms.

“Part of my thoughts is that as a society we have become quite complacent with the convenience of food,” Campbell says.

“If you want something, you just go to the grocery store … but do you know everything about that production of that particular food source?”

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KAP would also like to see a heavier focus on rural internet and cell service, where Campbell says a lot of discussion has happened but not enough actual progress.

CAP consists of $2-billion in federal, provincial and territorial cost-shared strategic initiatives, and $1-billion for federal activities and programs.

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