Having undergone recent changes by the former Liberal government, Ontario’s new government has announced its own changes for the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program, with more consultation planned.
“We heard livestock farmers’ concerns with the program so we’re making the first changes effective immediately,” says Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, in a press release. “We’re also continuing to consult with farmers to ensure future changes we make are meaningful and effective.”
As part of the government’s mandate to “cut red tape and reduce regulatory burden for businesses,” farmers will now qualify for compensation so long as they have a valid Farm Business Registration Number (FBRN) from the current or the previous calendar year. A valid FBRN exemption also qualifies.
The standardized pricing methodology has also been updated to provide separate pricing for steers and heifers, the government says.
Representing a combined membership of 60,000 farmers, the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO), Ontario Sheep Farmers (OSF) and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), announced they support the changes made to the program, they say, as all three groups have been actively consulting with both the previous and current governments regarding changes to the program.
The three organizations issued a set of recommendations and a summary of key concerns to the province in February of this year. The submission was developed jointly and informed by consultation with farmers, livestock investigators, municipalities, and subject matter experts from across Canada and the United States.
“We are encouraged by Minister Hardeman’s swift response to begin addressing some of the concerns that have been raised by farmers and industry with respect to the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program,” says BFO president, Joe Hill. “We have heard loud and clear from our membership that the current operation of the program is producing frustrating and unpredictable results.”
The last round of significant changes to the program resulted in a high percentage of denied claims, introduced a lengthy (and pay-per-use) appeal process, and increased the burden of proof of predation. Farmers and ranchers often wait more than six months for compensation of approved claims.
Ontario’s government says it will continue to consult on four more points over the course of the fall. These are:
- Introducing more ways to demonstrate that wildlife predation occurred
- Ensuring municipal investigators are effectively trained to assess predation
- Creating a separate appeals process that restores farmers confidence in the independence and transparency of the process
- Refining the standardized pricing model to better reflect market prices
It is expected that a majority of program changes will be introduced in early 2019, according to OMAFRA.