Recent History – 1998
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff ,Dec. 11, 1998
Help is on the way for farmers hit hard by low commodity prices, but the level of assistance for the Peace may be limited, provincial agriculture minister Corky Evans said on Thursday. Similar to the province’s whole farm insurance program, Evans said the federal program announced by federal agriculture minister Lyle Vanclief will probably be based on net income and not on specific crops.
“Payments will be based on losses and from the sounds of the way the federal government is building their program, it will mirror ours in B.C. which means that it will encourage diversity”, Evans said during a teleconference on Thursday. “If you have grain and canola, it will be your net income that determines your pay-out, not the value of the crop alone.”
But Dawson Creek grain producer Frank Breault said there’s still time to work out a better deal because not all of the details have been worked out yet. “None of this is etched in stone,” he said.
Vanclief announced on Thursday that he’ll make $900 million available to help farmers nation-wide, so long as provinces chip in another $600 million. The money from Ottawa likely won’t be paid out until after tax files are returned. In the meantime, Vanclief is counting on banks or provincial loan programs to cover the costs.
Evans said farmers can apply for help from the province immediately. Forms for application under the whole-farm insurance pilot project program will be mailed to farmers in early January and are to be processed on a priority basis. Farmers suffering losses are entitled to payment of up to 70 per cent of their annual income averaged over the three previous years.
In the days leading up to Vanclief’s announcement, Dawson Creek grain farmer Jim Smolik was not expecting much, particularly for those whose losses in grain were offset by gains in canola.
“So overall, when you look at it we may not be as affected as severely as somebody in Saskatchewan who’s strictly a wheat grower,” he said. “We’re a little more diversified up here, yet on a commodity-by-commodity basis, it’s barely meeting expenses and in some cases maybe not.”
While he welcomes any help farmers can get, Smolik said hand-outs can achieve only so much. Ending trade-distorting practices, particularly those of the Americans and Europeans, is the answer. “Then we can actually move into looking at what grains or what commodities we can produce that the world will actually want,” he said. “With these trade wars and enhancement programs we can’t really predict what we should be growing up here.”
Adding to local frustration is the fact that after two years of crops hurt by wet weather, a bumper crop of quality grain was harvested this year only to see the price plummet. Meanwhile, Americans are accusing Canadians of dumping grain into the U.S. market. But Smolik said American flour mills are demanding the high quality Canadian grain to mix in with their lower quality product.
“We up in this area probably grow the best quality of milling wheat in the world and a lot of countries will buy that for blending purposes,” he said. “And so even though it looks like we’re delivering to a country it’s something that their secondary industry maybe really needs.”
B.C. Crop insurance claims monitor Bill Greenhalgh said he doesn’t expect that much of the money will come to the Peace. But he added that the Peace was the largest beneficiary of the whole-farm insurance program last year, taking in nearly $4 million. Evans said he hopes the federal government will go with a program based on net income.
“I actually am in support of moving in that direction because British Columbia has always been penalized, has never got our share in the national safety net program because the national program is aimed at uni-crop economies,” he said.
He also wants the program to help out apple growers, as well as hog producers and grain producers, who have been facing the lowest prices since the 1930s.