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Manitoba, federal governments scramble to roll out support for agriculture producers amid drought

The Manitoba and federal governments have announced a handful of changes to agriculture insurance and stability programs as farmers continue to grapple with historic drought conditions. Dylan Williamson / Submitted

The Manitoba and federal governments have announced a handful of changes to agriculture insurance and stability programs as farmers continue to grapple with historic drought conditions.

On Friday, the governments said producers would be able to access 75 per cent of their AgriStability benefit before the end of the program year, instead of 50 per cent.

“I have been working closely with Manitoba producer groups and we are looking for every way we can help in these challenging times,” Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said in a news release.

“We have taken this additional step to provide our producers with support and this increase allows producers to access a larger portion of their AgriStability benefit early.”

The interim benefit is based on estimated losses for the year, compared with the operation’s reference margin.

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The decline must be at least 30 per cent below the reference margin to receive a payment.

Read more: Manitoba suffering driest July on record

Additionally, the government says it will allow a late participation option for those not currently participating in the AgriStability program, however payments to late participants will be reduced by 20 per cent.

Meantime, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced Friday that Ottawa is making $100 million available through the AgriRecovery Framework to “address the immediate extraordinary costs” facing producers impacted by drought and wildfires.

The fed says it’s working with the prairie provinces, Ontario and British Columbia to assess the scope of the “disaster” and how exactly the money can be put to best use.

After that, it says support programs will be put in place that could include direct assistance to livestock producers for costs associated with feed, transportation and water.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Eichler said his office was still going through the feds’ announcement to see how it would impact Manitoba, but added they’re waiting to hear back from Ottawa on a proposed multi-year tax deferral on livestock sales.

“We feel it’s going to be a multi-year approach, more along the terms of a three-year tax deferral, which I think is really important. Normally droughts don’t just have an impact on one year, sometimes it’s multi-year,” Eichler said.

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“And then on our programs, now that we know how much money we’re going to be working with — and we haven’t done the calculation — but there will be a feed assistance program in there, there’ll be a transportation in there, there’ll be a herd rebuild program in there.”

The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) will also not be deducting premiums owing from any forage claim indemnities paid out until Sept. 30. Normally those premiums are deducted before payments are made.

Read more: Manitoba farm groups urge producers to explore alternative uses for crops as drought continues

The province says MASC is also making advance payments on forage claims and will allow livestock grazing on low-yield forage fields, or after a first cut, without counting that grazed production against their forage claim.

Additionally, those who purchased forage insurance through MASC by a March 31 deadline may be eligible to receive a top-up payment if they register a claim before Sept. 30.

The province previously said it would be paying out the benefit, which totals $44 per tonne for every tonne below coverage, in advance, rather than the following year.

Read more: Manitoba drought continues to affect farmers, watersheds, wetlands across province

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Manitoba’s official Opposition on Friday accused the Conservative government of not acting quickly enough to support the beleaguered agriculture sector, and put forward its own strategy.

“(Producers) are expecting action from the PC government, but unfortunately that’s not happening,” said NDP agriculture critic Diljeet Brar.

“They need support right now. Cows need to eat today. Cows need water right now.”

The NDP said the government should work on three priority areas to avert financial losses and stabilize livestock farming operations.

That included a zero per cent interest lending program, with 15-year payback — Brar put the cost at around $50 million; a freight and feed assistance program to subsidize the cost of feed and transporting it; and to temporarily reduce lease payments for Crown lands by 50 per cent.

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