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Sask. budget boosts ag, road, education funds

Fully funding its share of federal/provincial business risk management programs such as AgriStability and AgriInvest is expected to cost Saskatchewan an additional $135 million in 2009-10.

The provincial government on Wednesday released its 2009-10 budget, which pledges a total agriculture budget of $483.4 million, up 58 per cent ($177.5 million) from 2008-9, as well as a cut and cap in education tax rates on farmland and other property.

Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud said in a release Wednesday that 87 per cent of the ag budget increase, or $155.4 million, is to go into business risk management programming, including AgriStability, AgriInvest and provincial crop insurance.

The budget, he said, “puts the focus of the ministry back on the farm gate, where it should be,” and noted the province’s “commitment to both research and agricultural extension services,” including previously announced plans to open three new rural extension offices and assign more staff to others.

Increased ag funding also includes another $20 million to cover previously announced upgrades to crop insurance, for a total crop insurance budget of $155.1 million. The province said its contribution to the crop insurance program in 2009 will be “the largest ever made by a Saskatchewan government.”

The 2009 AgriStability program is budgeted to cost the province $160.6 million, not counting $22 million toward the province’s previously announced plan to relocate the AgriStability administration for Saskatchewan farmers to Saskatchewan. The province has also budgeted $39 million for AgriInvest, up $6 million.

Apart from risk management programs, the budget includes $5 million in new provincial funds for the new federal-provincial Growing Forward agricultural policy framework, which the province said will include a province-wide water infrastructure program. Details of the Growing Forward agreement are expected to be announced in early April.

Education taxes

The province in this budget also announced a plan to cut and cap education mill rates by setting provincewide education tax rates for agricultural, commercial and residential properties.

The province, in turn, said it will pick up a greater share of the operating costs for Pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 education: 63 per cent, up from 51 per cent in 2008-09. Property owners’ education tax share would drop 14 per cent ($103 million), while the province raises its total school division funding share by $241 million, the government said Wednesday.

The education property tax is to be reduced by a further $53 million the following year, with the province assuming an offsetting share of the funding, Education Minister Ken Krawetz said in a separate release. At that point, he said, the province would be funding” about 66 per cent of the cost of education.”

For example, the province said, a farmer with 10 quarters of land in the west-central Rural Municipality of Winslow, assessed at $298,100 last year, would pay $1,039 less in education tax in 2009 and another $1,058 less in 2010 – a total tax cut of $2,097 or 61.6 per cent.

Among other budget line items of interest to Saskatchewan farmers is $140 million for an Integrated Rural Highway Strategy, including $100 million for construction on more than 250 km of rural highways and a 5,000-km expansion of the primary weight highway network;

Other ag budget line items, meanwhile, include $20.2 million for the province’s new five-year Crown land sale incentive program, which offers discounts to Crown land leaseholders interested in buying the land; $4 million to fund its previously announced “comprehensive pest control program” (which covers gophers, rats, northern-region black flies and predator species among others); $14.2 million for research projects, flat from 2008-09; and an extra $800,000 in increased grants to industry organizations, such as the Farm Animal Council and Canadian Western Agribition.

The provincial ag ministry also budgeted itself a small 4.5 per cent ($2.3 million) increase in operations funding, to cover “salary and inflationary increases.”

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