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Farmers should learn to call a spade a spade when government programs help them

The provincial government paid $1.8 billion in crop insurance claims that wasn’t planned in the budget.
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Bizworld by Ron Walter

The Saskatchewan mid-year financial report drew some unwanted attention to the farm community.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer’s review of Saskatchewan’s record $2.7 billion budget deficit mentioned unplanned causes of the deficit, other than the pandemic.

The provincial government paid $1.8 billion in crop insurance claims that wasn’t planned in the budget.

That explanation hit a sensitive spot among farmers. Spokesmen for the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said “it painted us in a bad light.’’

And they claimed the finance minister should have pointed out that farmers pay premiums for crop insurance.

Harpauer called the comments “ingenious” and “an attack on the government.”

One observer of the situation described it as childish.

What was Harpauer supposed to do? Tell us our government spent $1.8 billion on non-budgeted items but we can’t say here because it will offend some people.

So why would farmers be upset at her review?

Most farmers think of themselves as independent free enterprisers taking on the elements to produce food. Letting people know they depend on government programs contradicts that image.

In 2019, farm support programs amounted to 44 per cent of farmers’ net income in Canada.

Having grown up on a farm in the 1950s to the 1960s, this writer perfectly understands the need for programs supporting farmers. In those times only two types of aid existed: private hail insurance and the PFRA program known as a dried out bonus. It kicked in if crop yields fell below eight bushels an acre.

The current slate of programs was developed to void the frequent requests for money every time farmers fell on hard times. It hasn’t done that.

When times get tough, farmers still have out-stretched hands looking for assistance.

Farmers have an array of programs supporting them in tough times.

Crop insurance, dating back to 1959, is but one. Farmers do pay insurance premiums but the federal and provincial governments pay 60 per cent of the premiums.

Most home owners would jump for joy if government paid part of their insurance.

The Agri-Stability program offers payments if a farmer’s margin slips by 30 per cent.

The Agri-Invest program allows farmers to accumulate cash reserves by placing a percentage of revenue in an account. Government matches one per cent of revenues.

The program is intended to be used for withdrawals in hard times. Many farmers use it as a retirement plan.

The Agri-Recovery plan pays out in times of emergency and disaster like last year.

Under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership farmers can receive matching grants into the thousands for marketing, developing management skills, water infrastructure, environmental plans and a host of other improvements.       

Those are the main subsidies farmers receive. No other sector in Canada gets those kind of benefits             

Why try to hide it?

Many farmers also think of government assistance as welfare, and that contradicts the image of independent free enterprise operators.

Let’s call a spade a spade.

Ron Walter can be reached at ronjoy@sasktel.net

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.