Mr. Speaker, in response to the question posed by the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre I want to say that while overall the agriculture and agri-food sector is strong and makes a significant contribution to the Canadian economy, the government knows that the past year has not been an easy one for many producers.
The updated projections released on November 2 were produced jointly with the provinces. The Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food does not produce incorrect or misleading information. The same people who predicted the minus $48 million were the same people who revised the projections to $325 million.
The $325 million upward revision between the July and November projections for 1999 is mainly the result of an increase in NISA payments and cattle and durum wheat receipts, combined with the decrease in operating costs, in particular pesticide and fertilizer. Statistics Canada estimates of farm cash receipts for January to September 1999 are in line with the October forecast for the prairies of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
However, the farm income forecasts are not the most important numbers. The numbers are fluid and changing. Whatever the numbers turn out to be they are just that, numbers. The real subject here is people, not income forecasts.
The government has introduced changes to the AIDA program that will benefit many producers across the country. We will now be covering a portion of negative margins, which occur when a farm has a particularly bad year and the operation has insufficient revenues to cover variable costs for fuel, machinery repair and chemicals.
Farmers now have the option to make a one time choice in 1999 of the reference period on which the claimant calculation for AIDA is based. They will be able to choose either the previous three years or three of the previous five when the high and low income years are not counted.
In provinces where the federal government delivers the program we are committed to having the processing of AIDA claims completed by Christmas.