Government reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic is getting mixed reviews from Manitoba’s farmers.
Lately, however, the favour of some beef producers has skewed more toward the federal government than the province.
At issue is a $2.5-million AgriRecovery disaster relief fund wherein cattle owners are being given $1.2 per day per animal that was ready for slaughter between mid-April and August.
Pandemic-related delays at the time prevented cattle from getting to slaughter — even more so than now, anyway, according to Manitoba Beef Producers general manager Carson Callum.
The program should help "at least a little bit," he said, but he added his organization was "disappointed" when the province didn’t chip in.
AgriRecovery is designed to be cost-shared between the federal and provincial governments at a respective 60/40 per cent.
While Callum thanks the province for administering the program, the Manitoba government did not contribute their 40 per cent share.
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen said he gave the Manitoba Beef Producers and Keystone Agricultural Producers a proposal for how the province might fund their contribution of approximately $2 million, but that it was rejected.
"So, that’s the bottom line," Pedersen said. "I had the money there for them, through a different program, and they said ‘no.’"
The different program in question is AgriInvest, in which qualifying farmers’ annual investment is matched up to $10,000 by the federal and provincial governments, which chip in a respective 60/40 per cent.
The province would have lowered this year’s contribution to top out at $3,000 per farmer, with the $1,000 reduction going toward paying for their share of the AgriRecovery program.
"The finances of the province have certainly taken a hit because of COVID, just like every other jurisdiction, and this was a one-time offer for this," Pedersen said.
The two agricultural lobbyist organizations he presented this idea to, however, ended up rejecting it as a "rob Peter to pay Paul" situation they were dissatisfied with.
"Why should we feel obligated for certain agricultural producers to give away part of what they are entitled to," Campbell said, adding that although farmers are known for helping their neighbours, a government mandate makes doing so less palatable.
"This provincial ag minister was unable to find $2 million to support agriculture in Manitoba during COVID-19."
While the AgriRecovery effort is important to those in the industry who produce market-ready cattle, it’s of less importance to farmers like Tyler Fulton, who owns a 600-head cow-calf operation in Birtle.
He wasn’t directly affected by the bottleneck at slaughterhouses, but did take a hit of approximately 20 per cent per head while marketing calves in the spring.
"At least we were able to move them," he said, adding those who produce market-ready cattle for slaughter "took it on the chin the hardest."
At issue for Fulton and others who focus on the cow-calf area of operations is that they don’t have the same access to business risk management products as those in other agricultural sectors.
The Western Livestock Price Insurance Program can help lock in prices, but the price of their policies "went through the roof" in the spring.
"It would have been really great to have seen action from the province and federal government to help with some of that increased cost, but they didn’t," Fulton said.
"That would have probably been the most easy, convenient and probably cost-effective way to address that uncertainty for the cow-calf guys."
After two drought years, a lot of farmers were under the impression this would be their year to recover, he said — an optimism COVID-19 snuffed.
"I think there’s still a lot of future and potential in the industry … but I feel that for some of the older guys, this will probably be the straw that broke the camel’s back."
One of the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ main point of advocacy at the moment is for governments to shore up the AgriStability program, whose costs are shared by the federal (60 per cent) and provincial (40 per cent) governments.
The current program is triggered once a production margin falls below 70 per cent of the farmer’s reference margin, at which point they’re eligible for a payment of 70 cents for every dollar of decline below the trigger point.
Keystone Agricultural Producers is advocating for a coverage rate of 85 percent with no reference margin limit.
As the program’s name implies, Campbell said AgriStability is intended to "bring stability to the industry" by evening out its rougher financial edges.
Although some are calling to question the province’s commitment to specific efforts, Pedersen said they’re offering a wide range of programs to help in reaction to not only pandemic-related matters, but also other hardships farmers are facing.
An example from last week are the one-time Crown land rent rebates of 20 per cent they’re giving farmers in municipalities that declared local states of agricultural emergency, in which they’re giving back a total of more than $530,000.
"There are lots of other programs out there and ways we’re helping the beef industry," Pedersen said.
"We need the beef industry to be strong in Manitoba. It fits into our protein strategy and it’s good for the economy of rural Manitoba."
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB