Feb. 25, 1999
By Mike Leschart, Daily News Staff
An arrangement with the federal government means more money for B.C. farmers in need of disaster relief funds, and Agriculture Minister Corky Evans said producers should have the money in a few months.
“I’m hoping that cheques will be in people’s hands in time for spring planting,” he told reporters during a teleconference Wednesday.
Evans spoke after emerging from two days of meetings with provincial agricultural ministers and federal minister Lyle Vanclief in Victoria. The federal government will contribute $900 million to the Agriculture Income Disaster Assistance (AIDA) program over two years. A 60-40 cost sharing agreement means the provinces will contribute up to $600 million.
The federal assistance will enhance the provincial programs already in place. The ceiling for B.C. farmers claims will rise from $100,000 to $175,000. Also, farmers can use the provincial applications already available at agriculture offices across the province. Processing will begin on March 5.
The price of many agricultural commodities in the province crashed in 1998 and 1999. Evans said B.C. ginseng producers were getting $35 per pound in past years, but this price dropped severely to eight dollars this year.
But because the provinces agriculture industry is so diverse, Evans expects a wide variety of producers to apply for assistance. Grain farmers in the Peace Region, apple growers in the Okanagan, cranberry, blueberry and hog producers in the Fraser Valley and ginseng farmers in Merritt and Kamloops have all faced dire financial times recently.
“British Columbia is different than just about every other province,” Evans said.
The announcement did little to appease the concerns of fruit growers in the Okanagan, who have had severe market and weather problems recently. No immediate relief will be forthcoming to the fruit growers, who are planning to stage demonstrations and protests in Victoria.
Also, many farmers are upset that the relief will not cover negative margins. An applicant’s gross margins, or revenues from commodities minus expenses, will be compared to the average from the three previous years. Payment will be based on the amount the gross margin for the year falls below 70 per cent.
Evans said disaster relief money will help the situation, but he would not guarantee that all growing operations in the province would be saved.
“I certainly hope that it provides the kind of hope for the future that people are looking for but I’d say there’s no guarantee that it will fit every operation,” he said.
Along with discussing the federal AIDA contribution at the meetings, Evans pressed for a re-structuring of the federal agricultural safety net — a more long-term funding reserve that covers crop insurance.
While B.C. contributes 5 per cent of Canada’s farming income, it receives only three per cent of the safety net.
“Historically we have felt that the safety net systems for agriculture have been skewed to grain and skewed to the prairie provinces,” he said. Vanclief agreed to review the provincial allocation, and a meeting will be held in July to discuss the issue further.