Alberta to shut livestock, grain agencies in budget

(Government of Alberta via Flickr)

Alberta’s farmers will be spared the new fuel levy planned for next year in the province’s latest budget, but can expect a number of farm agencies to close in the meantime as the province moves to curb spending.

Provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci on Thursday announced a 2016-17 budget with projected revenue of $41.38 billion, based on conservative estimates of resource revenue, and expenses of $51.1 billion, for an expected deficit of about $10.4 billion.

Ceci’s budget maps out a “Climate Leadership Plan” that places a carbon levy on transport and heating fuels, pricing carbon at $20 per tonne starting Jan. 1, 2017 and $30 per tonne starting Jan. 1, 2018, translating to a 5.35-cent per litre levy on diesel in 2017 and 8.03 cents per litre in 2018.

Marked gasoline and diesel “used by farmers for farming operations” will be exempt from the levy — but tax-exempt marked fuels sold for other “qualifying off‐road uses” will be subject to the levy, the province said Thursday.

Ceci, in announcing the deficit budget, noted previous Alberta governments have responded in bust times with “reckless and extreme cuts to public services” but such a move today would “only cause more pain and economic anxiety, tearing at the fabric of our communities and making a difficult situation that much worse.”

However, the public sector won’t go untouched, as the province also announced “a number of cost-saving measures that help restrain the rate of growth in government operating expense,” including amalgamations for several agencies and outright dissolution for others.

In all, 26 agencies are to be affected, for cost savings of $33 million over three years. Alberta’s Land Compensation Board, Municipal Government Board, New Home Buyer Protection Board and Surface Rights Board face consolidation, the province said.

Among the agencies and committees scheduled to be dissolved, however, are the province’s Alberta Grains Council (AGC) and Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA). The agencies’ “relevant functions” will be absorbed into provincial government departments.

ALMA, set up in 2008, directs funding in the livestock sector to support market development and diversification, “production system enhancement,” certification programs, product development, research and development programs and “transition and change” programs.

The AGC includes up to eight farmer members advising the provincial ag minister on “current and emerging issues and trends in the grain industry,” backed by a “small” support staff. As of 2014, the council had five farmer members and three staffers.

The AGC, set up in 1972 as the Alberta Grain Commission, is today tasked with examining “all facets of the grain industry… from producer to end user” and making policy recommendations on “any matters pertaining to the grain industry.”

Other provincial committees marked for dissolution including the Agricultural Development Committee, the Agricultural Operation Practices Act Policy Advisory Group, the Alberta Farm Safety Advisory Council, the Alberta Next Generation Advisory Council and the Alberta Recreation Trails Partnership.

The budget provides for operating expenses of $1.036 billion for the provincial agriculture and forestry ministry — up from $1.013 billion forecast for 2015-16, but down from the 2015-16 budget of $1.072 billion. Targets for 2017-18 and 2018-19 are set at $1.009 billion and $1.041 billion respectively.

The 2016-17 budget calls for $466 million for crop, hail and livestock insurance, $129 million for ag income support programs; $103 million for industry and market development and $48 million “to ensure food safety and animal health.”

Compared to the energy sector, Alberta’s ag sector has a relatively bright outlook in Ceci’s budget, which notes the province’s agri-food exports hit a record $10 billion in 2015, up three per cent from the previous year.

Agriculture, along with forestry and manufacturing, “will continue to benefit from a lower Canadian dollar, reduced cost pressures and a stronger U.S. economy.”

Expansion in food manufacturing is also increasing local demand for farm products the province said, noting the opening of Cargill’s new canola crushing plant in Camrose. — Network

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