January 28, 2013
Hon. Ted McMeekin
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
77 Grenville St.,
re. Hay and Pasture Insurance, AgriRecovery and Hay East
Dear Minister McMeekin:
The National Farmers Union-Ontario (NFU-O) is a direct-membership, non-partisan national farm organization which represents over two thousand farmers in Ontario. The NFU-O works toward the development of economic and social policies that will maintain family farms as the primary food-producers in Ontario and across Canada.
First, on behalf of NFU-O members we would like to acknowledge the following support from your government:
- Matching funding for transportation of hay through the Hay East program,
- Funding through AgriRecovery to cover the costs of transporting feed to breeding stock or to move breeding stock to feed.
We hope these programs will help some farmers make it through the winter and that they will help maintain the breeding herds that are essential to Ontario’s food sovereignty down the road.
However, livestock farmers, including beef, sheep and dairy farmers, in many areas of the
province continue to contact the NFU-O office, Regional Council members and Local leaders to express their concerns about the lack of availability of affordable forages and the shortcomings of the hay and pasture insurance program. Farmers, from Elgin county across to Renfrew county, have told us in the past few weeks that they do not have enough hay for their herds this winter.
The nature of the drought in 2012 was such that it did not affect farms equally across a region or across a municipality. There were areas where farms because of their exact geography were faced with significant crop and forage loss when farms within the same municipality had adequate rainfall at critical times. This becomes a problem when a farmer applies for compensation through the Hay and Pasture Insurance Program only to be turned down because rainfall for the area was calculated to be of an average level. The response to the 2012 drought from both levels of government was to suggest farmers use the insurance programs available, yet if these programs do not provide reasonable payouts in a year like 2012, when forage and pasture harvests were well below average in much of the province, they are of no use to farmers. Many of our members have expressed their frustration and have claimed that their premiums are “wasted.” This challenge is only exacerbated for farmers who live outside one of the designated crisis regions, and are therefore not eligible for additional support through programs like Hay East and AgriRecovery.
Recommendations from NFU-O members for changes to the Hay and Pasture Insurance Program include:
- work to change the criteria under crop insurance so that farmers are more likely to qualify when crop failures occur;
- consider the timing of rainfall, not just the total rainfall over the season. Rainfall in August did not make up for the lack of hay harvested in first and second cut, but it did have an impact on whether or not farmers with insurance received a payout;
- the use of one or two rainfall collection stations per municipality, does not account for the great variation in rainfall amounts that come with rain from thunderstorms; winter snow load, evaporation due to high temperatures, amount of sunlight and the number of windy days should all be factored into calculations for hay and pasture insurance, as they all led to the lack of forage available for harvest in 2012;
- if climate change means that farmers will face more variable weather, and summer droughts become more common, long term averages will decline, meaning crop insurance payments are going to be less and less helpful;
- similarly, if climate change leads to more variable weather, in terms of more rainfall from events like thunderstorms, using a limited number of rainfall collection stations will make hay and pasture insurance less and less helpful to farmers;
- farmers would like quicker response times and faster processing of payments by Agricorp;
Unfortunately, the shortcomings experienced by farmers who took out hay and pasture insurance in 2012, will likely result in some of them making the decision to not pay the premiums in future years, unless there are major changes to the program. In addition, crop insurance will never be an option for all farmers because it is not designed for smaller diverse farms with a wide variety of livestock, field crops, vegetables and other products. In a drought like the one experienced in parts of Ontario in 2012, all farmers are impacted and suffer losses. These considerations, point to the need to maintain strong disaster relief programs and to make sure they are available to farmers when they face unusual weather conditions. The NFU-O realizes the change in thinking that this revision represents but also recognizes its importance considering the serious nature of unstable markets and food supplies. As shown this year, unstable markets resulted in the sudden loss of reasonably priced forage, with farmers being forced to pay over twice as much for hay as in previous years.
As an on the ground response to the dire conditions, Hay East was formed to generate awareness of the struggles faced by farmers and to deliver hay to those needing feed for livestock. This kind of grassroots action is excellent, but costs incurred from trucking present a challenge to farmers seeking out the service. The NFU-O acknowledges that there have been provincial and federal funds provided to this program, but the program has not gone far enough. Farmers are still not able to find enough affordable hay to feed their animals this winter.
To this end, the NFU-O would request that the Minister’s office:
- continue to support Hay East;
- fully recognize in-kind contributions and match those contributions with cash, so that hay can continue to flow east through February and into March;
- encourage each and every MP or MPP to ask their constituents to make donations to the initiative, to be matched by government.
We would also like to address the AgriRecovery program announced in December, 2012. As noted above, we appreciate the commitment of the Ontario government to provide some disaster relief support to farmers. We hope the program will help some farmers maintain their breeding herds, which are important for farm incomes in future years and to Ontario’s food sovereignty.
We would encourage you to expand the program to cover additional extraordinary costs incurred by farmers, as a result of the drought conditions in 2012 to consider:
- the costs incurred by farmers who planted oats and peas into wheat and spring grain stubble, to make up for the lack of hay;
- the costs of purchasing ingredients to use in TMR mixes, to make up for the lack of hay;
- the costs farmers will incur later in 2013 when they are forced to re-seed hay and pasture fields due to over-grazing and over harvest
- many dairy farmers also raise their own replacement cows. It is not clear whether or not dairy breeding herds are included in the AgriRecovery program. Our members have indicated they would like to see dairy farmers who experienced extra-ordinary costs due to the drought included in the program.
One final point, which is not related to the drought in 2012 but is related to disaster relief for farmers who face adverse weather conditions. The NFU-O is disappointed that the federal and provincial governments did not provide an AgriRecovery program for Ontario Apple Growers who also experienced an unprecedented crop failure due to extremely unusual, adverse weather conditions in 2012. On top of having little to no crop (or income) in 2012 and no AgriRecovery program, it is extremely disappointing to learn they will also be forced to pay significantly higher crop insurance premiums in 2013.
We look forward to your response to this letter, and the issues raised on behalf of farmers
represented by the NFU-O, and to your continued efforts to improve risk management programs, like crop insurance and AgriRecovery, so that farmers have the support we need when we are faced with adverse weather conditions.
Ann Slater, Ken Mills,
NFU-Ontario Coordinator NFU-Ontario Youth Advisor
Randy Jackiw, CEO Agricorp
Hon. Ernie Hardeman
Hon. Gerry Ritz