After experiencing the worst drought in 70 years on the Prairies, the annual meeting of Keystone Agricultural Producers served both as a debrief on the rough experience many Manitoba producers faced last year and a chance to set the stage for the year ahead.
KAP’s annual meeting is typically the first major agricultural event of the year and Manitoba’s new agriculture minister, Derek Johnson, took the opportunity to speak (virtually) to KAP’s membership for the first time.
He was able to announce record levels of AgriInsurance coverage for 2022 which is expected to exceed $4.66 billion.
With the expectation that commodity prices will remain strong, average coverage is estimated at $463 per acre, compared to $321 per acre in 2021.
AgriInsurance is a program that is cost shared between the federal and provincial government and producers themselves.
Johnson said the province will continue to collaborate with the sector saying that the impact of the drought placed the entire sector in need of significant support.
In addition to upping AgriInsurance coverage — which will also include increased premiums for producers — the province is also introducing a new polycrop insurance program, increasing coverage for potato farmers who lose production prior to harvest and is reducing the minimum acreage required for vegetable acreage loss insurance from three to one-half to help support smaller commercial producers
As well, Johnson, said, "We are developing programs to help build existing labour force capacity and to attract new people to the sector."
Both Johnson and Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s minister of agriculture and agri-food who also spoke at the meeting on Tuesday, reminded KAP members of their rapid response to Manitoba livestock producers’ urgent need for access to feed last summer by sharing the costs of $150 million in aid that was put together in time to stave off even more of the culling that producers were facing.
Looking back on the 2021 crop year, Bill Campbell, the president of KAP, said resilience is what comes to mind for him.
The experience of wilting crops and hay-starved livestock last year emphasized the importance of KAP’s role as the unified voice for all agricultural producers.
"Last year served as a reminder of KAP’s ability to bring agriculture together on key issues and how this is the foundation of our work," said Campbell in his president’s remarks. "At every turn, we emphasize collaboration with farmers, commodity groups and governments. We know that farmers’ issues are interconnected."
Before the drought dominated the focus of the organization, it was engaged in what ended up being successful lobbying efforts to encourage the federal government to give a rebate on carbon tax used for fuel to dry grain and heat barns. But Campbell said it did not go far enough. KAP has also been lobbying the provincial government hard to continue to eliminate education property taxes from farmland.
Unless other natural disasters in 2022 distract from KAP’s normal work on advocacy, regulatory modernization and outreach, Campbell said it will focus those efforts on four key priorities this year — business risk management programs to support farmers, sustainability and the environment which is now a theme that runs through much of KAP’s policies, economic development in rural Manitoba and public trust in agriculture.
Members voted on a number of resolutions that serve to direct specific lobbying efforts by KAP from major capital programs such as lobbying Manitoba Hydro to install natural gas infrastructure at cost to all rural residents, to lobbying the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to have a noxious weed that has been detected in some soy bean seed to be added as a prohibited noxious weed seed under the Weed Seeds Order, to trying to get the Port of Churchill open once again for shipping Prairie grain.
Leonard Gluska, a producer in KAP’s district 12 at the northern edge of the grain producing part of the province, said it has been seven years since there has been any grain shipped from the northern port. In his discussion of the motion he noted that while there has not been any shipments other than from Regina-based AGT Foods which is one of the partners in the new ownership group that now operates the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill.
He said producers in the region have been economically impaired by the loss of access to that port and that producers believe there is market demand from the port.
The decision was to table the motion with KAP’s transportation committee for further review.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.