Ontario government expands Risk Management Program by $50 million to support farmers
By Stephanie Gordon
The Ontario government is expanding the Risk Management Program a year earlier than planned by $50 million for a total of $150 million annually. This funding supports farmers with unforeseen challenges such as fluctuating market prices, extreme weather events like flooding or drought, and disease.
In 2018 Premier Doug Ford campaigned on the promise to increase the Risk Management Program (RMP) cap by $50 million annually and had planned to establish it in 2021. Today’s announcement has brought about the change one year earlier than planned.
Details were provided on July 16 by Premier Doug Ford, and Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, at a press conference held in Chatham, Ont. on a farm.
“Our government stands shoulder to shoulder with our farmers during these unprecedented times. As we chart a path to recovery, we will be there for our farmers and their workers to help them continue to put food on our tables,” said Premier Ford during the conference. “We committed to expanding this program in Year 3 of our mandate, but we are delivering on that commitment a year earlier than promised to provide more stability, income security and peace of mind for farmers, which is long overdue. I’m proud to say promise made, promise kept.”
Approximately 80 per cent of eligible commercial production in the cattle, hog, sheep, veal, grains and oilseeds, and edible horticulture sectors in Ontario is covered by the provincial Risk Management Program.
“We know farmers face tremendous pressures and uncertainties including reduced processing capacity, increased costs and volatile markets. After listening to feedback from the farming sector, that is why we are accelerating our promise to increase the Risk Management Program to $150 million by one year,” said Minister Hardeman. “We’re committed to providing our farmers with added support at this time and advocating on their behalf with the federal government to help them continue doing their critical work of producing safe, nutritious food for our kitchen tables.”
Applications for the Risk Management Program will reopen today (July 16) to allow eligible farmers the opportunity to apply to the program. The deadline to apply closes at midnight on July 30, 2020.
Ontario’s program, which is administered by Agricorp, is available for eligible farm businesses in the grains, cattle, hogs, sheep, veal, and edible horticulture sectors. In order to qualify, applicants must meet the eligibility criteria outlined in the program guidelines.
Producers should contact the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ delivery agent, Agricorp, to enroll in the Risk Management Program and AgriStability or to discuss their individual files.
Agriculture industry responds
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), which represents 38,000 farm families across the province, welcomed the funding saying that access to funding through the program can help farmers offset increased farm operation costs and market unpredictability.
“OFA is thrilled to see this funding increase that was originally earmarked for next year brought forward and made available to farm businesses during a challenging and tumultuous year for many farmers,” said Keith Currie, OFA’s president, in a released statement.
Ontario’s Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA), which represents 3,500 fruit and vegetable farmers in the province, “applauded” the news as well. OFVGA has been actively requesting the measure since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today’s funding announcement by Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman means that growers will see a substantial increase in their SDRM benefits for this program year, one year ahead of the original timelines for this measure,” OFVGA stated.
Ontario’s Risk Management Program includes the Self-Directed Risk Management (SDRM) program for edible horticulture farms. The Self-Directed Risk Management account enables farmers to receive matching contributions from the Ontario government up to a maximum amount. The deposit maximum is based on eligible Allowable Net Sales.
“We recognize that this government’s platform commitment was for the third year of the their mandate, but given how dramatically our world has changed under COVID-19 and how much greater the risks are that farmers face as a result, we are strongly supportive and appreciative of accelerating implementation,” says Bill George, chair of the OFVGA, in a released statement. “We believe that this action will be significant and meaningful in addressing the additional risks, increased costs and market instability growers have been facing during the 2020 growing season.”
Growers continue to have access to other existing programs, including federal programs like AgriStability and AgriInvest, and OFVGA added that their organization continues to advocate for changes to those programs that would improve supports for growers. In a follow-up question during the press conference, Ernie Hardeman said that today’s announcement does not impact the province’s existing calls for additional support from the federal government that would see longterm improvements to federal business risk management programs.
Additional supports for farmers
In response to COVID-19, the federal and Ontario governments also have added labour as an insured risk to AgriCorp’s production insurance for the 2020 growing season. Ontario farmers with production insurance who suffer crop losses due to insufficient labour or COVID-19 outbreaks will have access to further insurance coverage through AgriCorp.
The increased investment in the Risk Management Program is in addition to a $15 million Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program. Farmers and other operations have access to cost-share funding to help enhance health and safety measures for employees, such as purchasing personal protective equipment, medical testing equipment, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, and temporary or permanent modifications to enhance physical distancing. Support is also available for farmers who experience unexpected costs for housing and transportation as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak on their farm.