Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Ritz pledges to consult on “flexibility” plan

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz plans a series of roundtable meetings this week with farmers in four provinces to discuss the design of Ottawa’s new agricultural flexibility program.

The government’s budget in January earmarked $500 million to fund an ag flexibility program, which it said will involve working with the provinces to “meet unique regional needs and maximize opportunities.”

The budget described the agricultural flexibility plan as a program to help farmers develop new technologies and promote environmental sustainability.

The pledge of a “flexibility” plan had followed calls in the months leading up to the budget from groups such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) for a federally-funded “AgriFlex” program that would have allowed provinces and territories the flexibility to distribute money according to their requirements.

Other groups such as the Ontario-Quebec Grain Farmers’ Coalition later ripped Ottawa’s budget proposal for a flexibility plan as “a flawed program” which didn’t include a business risk management component and “will do nothing to improve the long-term viability of the family farm.”

“Farmers gave us the vision for the agricultural flexibility program,” Ritz said in a release Wednesday. “Now we are working with farmers on the nuts and bolts to make sure the agricultural flexibility program works for the farm gate.”

The program, he said, is to be delivered in co-operation with provincial and territorial governments over five years.

Ritz said he would hold roundtable meetings this week with farmers in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta as part of an “ongoing commitment to get input directly from farmers when developing agricultural policies.”

Further consultations with “representatives along the entire value chain” are also to be held “in the coming weeks and months,” Ritz’s release said.

“When it comes to agriculture policy, farmers are the most qualified experts out there,” said Minister Ritz. “We are making sure their ideas are the foundation of initiatives such as the agricultural flexibility program.”

Ritz’s release Wednesday did not specify exactly where or when roundtable meetings would be held in the four provinces mentioned, nor whether the meeting would be open to the public or by invitation only.

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