It is clear that the business climate for fruit and vegetable growers has never been riskier. To mitigate some of the risks that our growers take on year after year, the Canadian Horticultural Council is pleased to provide its recommendations for improving the federal suite of BRM programs.
First and foremost, changes to the AgriStability program would have the most meaningful and far-reaching impact for growers. We recommend that the AgriStability program be amended as soon as possible to raise the coverage level to 85% of reference margin, and the compensation rate to 85¢ on the dollar of loss beyond this trigger, and eliminate the reference margin capping.
Secondary measures, such as ensuring that federal, provincial and territorial governments increase their share of the AgriInvest contribution, and program caps need to be increased to reflect the current realities in agriculture.
The effectiveness of the AgriRecovery program needs to be improved. Where catastrophes with long-term business impacts are concerned, the program should be streamlined to provide a timelier response. Narrowing the gap between AgriRecovery compensation and that of other business risk management programs will also help growers effectively recover from disaster situations.
Additionally, the federal government must examine options for enhancing access to production insurance for commodities that currently do not have traditional insurance programs, such as greenhouse growers. Some other crops have available production insurance programs but very low participation rates, and enhancements are needed. CHC has been proactive in working on a concept of recognition of risk mitigation. Many growers actively spread the risk or, in other words, diversify their operations through growing a variety of different crops, multi-season harvests, or growing in different geographic areas. These are just some examples.
Currently, under a whole farm program like AgriStability, diversified farms may not receive adequate coverage for a drop in the value of one or more of their crops if the value of one or more of their other crops has increased in the same program year, in other words, offsetting the risk.
Product diversification and having farms mitigate their own risks should be encouraged rather than penalized through program design. We therefore encourage the government to establish comprehensive and equitable insurance coverage by considering the individual risk profiles of farms.
CHC has submitted a proposal under the AgriRisk programs to explore developing a whole farm, grower paid, top-up insurance product for horticulture growers, which would address the gap in coverage and serve as a complement to AgriStability and AgriInsurance.
To ensure the long-term stability and growth of Canada's agricultural sector and edible horticulture in particular, a stronger partnership between the federal government, provinces and territories, and industry experts is needed to develop meaningful business risk management programs for growers. It is time for the Canadian agricultural partnership to become more than words.
Current funding envelopes hinder imaginative discussions to changing program policies and structures. If the Canadian government is serious about prioritizing agriculture as a key economic driver, then it needs to be prepared to make program changes based on demonstrated needs and gaps, rather than limiting itself to small adjustments with rigid existing funding allocations.
We look forward to working with the federal government on solutions for our sector. The agricultural sector plays a critical role in Canada's economy, and we believe it can be a big part of the economic recovery.