For decades now our national government has administered a wide ranging and constantly changing suite of farm programs. To be honest, I think most of the politicians and bureaucrats that serve them and us are sincere in wishing to help the family farm survive. But many of these programs are so cumbersome and have such a bloated bureaucracy that they cannot help but fail.
The two major programs under the Growing Forward banner are AgriInvest (the new NISA) and AgriStability (the new CAIS). In my opinion they should both be shut down and have their funds put to better use.
I do have an AgriInvest account, simply because one would have to be financially illiterate not to. If we do not join, we are subsidizing those who do. It should be fairly simple and I do have a piece of paper dated March 2009 that shows a small balance. It also says that I must contribute in 2008 to get the matching money from the feds. Fair enough, but I never received a notification of how much I should send or where to send it. So I phoned the number given and after a few “push 1”s, I was put on hold. In a very short time, I got through to a live body. After giving my PIN and a bit of other info, we were able to converse. We narrowed the problem down to the fact they had never received my 2008 info from CRA. I have a May 15, 2009 Notice of Assessment that says 2008 info was received and all was in order. So all of a sudden the lack of communication between levels of bureaucracy became my problem. GRRRR!
I’m not giving you this long-winded explanation of my problem for its own sake, but to illustrate the huge, bloated bureaucracy that must exist to administer these programs. And AgriInvest is one of the simpler programs that should be easy to administer.
The only problem with AgriInvest is that it is not needed. It’s hard to get farmers to complain about a program that provides mana from the Feds but it is a very inefficient savings plan. In the days of the old NISA program, the ag minister of the day could not understand why farmers were in trouble but not taking money out of the program. Wake up! Those with a fat NISA balance were not in trouble and never would be, so they had no need to pull any money out.
AgriStability is the new CAIS. It compares the income in one year to the farm’s benchmark income to calculate if a farmer should get a payment. I clearly remember well known U. of S. ag economist Hartley Furtan stating that a farm program based on the margin concept was a dud by definition because “farming is not a margin business.” We do not grow our grain, figure out the cost and then add a margin to determine the selling price. We grow the grain, sell it the best we can, and hope we have something left over after the bills are paid. The difference might be called a margin but we are not in a margin business.
PUT MORE INTO CROP INSURANCE
One part of the Growing Forward program that is much needed, works fine and should be expanded is AgriInsurance — crop insurance. Provinces run their own programs with significant federal money involved. In my opinion, all the money put into AgriInvest and AgriStability should be funneled into Crop Insurance to enhance the benefits of that program. I find Crop Insurance people easy to deal with and knowledgeable about agriculture and responsive, and crop insurance is all rather easy to understand. And 2009 business is done in 2009. As I see the AgriStability program, it is possible to be dealing with events that are years old. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Speaking of disaster, there should be the capability to respond to natural disasters that are out of the realm of ordinary year to year weather problems. Such disaster payment should be by the acre or the animal. That makes them simple to administer and a lot of money would be saved by avoiding the huge administrative load of current programs.
Perhaps AgriRecovery fills the bill for such disaster needs. The description given by the feds would suggest it does, but I have no experience with which to judge. I am sure there are readers out there who do have such experience.
So it is my wish that the new NISA (AgriInvest) and the new CAIS (AgriStability) have a relatively short life and that they are buried so deep that the skeletons cannot emerge to morph into more bad programs.
J. L. (Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms near Dundurn, Sask.