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Ont. pledges service improvement at Agricorp

The results of a value-for-money audit of Ontario’s farm funding agency have spurred the province to promise improved service and to develop a strategy to get there.

“Ontario farmers will see improvements in the service they receive from Agricorp, including quicker turnaround times on AgriStability program applications and faster response times at the call centre,” the province said in a release Thursday.

Agricorp, a provincial Crown agency, delivers provincial and federal-provincial farm income assistance programs such as AgriStability, handling over $500 million per year in payments to farmers.

The agency was found in a report this summer by Auditor General Jim McCarter to have had “difficulty adapting to rapid changes caused by a substantial growth in the number of farm support programs and a doubling of annual support payments to farmers in the last few years.”

McCarter’s audit was requested by Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky, who had cited “a number of concerns from the agriculture community over delays in processing applications and payments, poor communications, a lack of customer focus and the lack of timely, bankable and transparent delivery of critical farm support programs.”

Dombrowsky took the July report to farmers and Ontario farm groups for discussion on McCarter’s recommendations in meetings over the summer and fall.

“I want to thank everyone who took the time to provide input about how we can do a better job of delivering income support programs more effectively,” she said in Thursday’s release. “We are committed to making improvements to better serve farmers.”

The province said it will work with Agricorp on a renewal strategy that focuses on “excellent customer service: and on “getting the most value for farmers’ and taxpayers’ money through an accountable and transparent process.”

The province said it will also continue to press for a “national review” of business risk management programs for farmers, “reflecting the auditor’s comments on the complexity, predictability and transparency of the AgriStability program.”

McCarter said in July that Agricorp’s program load had increased from two in 2003 to 13 by 2008. In its last full fiscal year, he wrote, Agricorp handled $468 million in payments to farmers including those from AgriStability’s predecessor, CAIS, as well as production insurance, the Market Revenue program, the CAIS inventory transition initiative, the Ontario inventory transition program, the Canada-Ontario general top-up program, the self-directed risk management program, the plum pox program for fruit growers, the Ontario Grain and Oilseed Program, the Ontario edible horticulture crop payment, the Risk Management Program, the Ontario cost recognition top-up program, the Ontario juice grape transition program and the Ontario cattle, hog and horticulture payment program.

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