Managing producers' risk key focus for new OAC research chair

There are many challenges that have the potential to dash the business plans and hopes of farmers —from trade agreements, to climate change, and primary risks.

Strong government policy is part of the solution. Helping shape effective policy will be one of Dr. Alan Ker’s goals as he assumes the newly-created Research Chair in Agriculture Risk and Policy at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College. This leadership role is based out of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (FARE) and is focused on mitigating risk related to production agriculture through policy making.

Dr. Alan Ker assumes the newly created Research Chair in Agriculture Risk and Policy at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College

So what do farmers and the agriculture industry need to know to develop and implement more effective policy? Ker says the first requirement is to understand how current policies help producers handle risk. He notes that it’s critically important that policy finds the balance between providing protection for farmers while still encouraging them to innovate and invest in technologies required for growth, without relying heavily on government.

Risk management programs is one area where Ker will be focusing his efforts. He believes some current programs need to be revisited. “Producers are pretty happy with production insurance,” he says but other programs are not hitting the mark. “In terms of Agri-Stability, that program has not been well-received… it’s not near to the level where I think the federal government was expecting it to be.”

As a difficult 2018 Ontario harvest pushes into late December, Ker says he’s also keeping a close eye on high DON levels in the provincial corn crop and how existing programs are utilized to manage the financial impact on farmers. Programs will have to adapt so there will be much to learn from the harvest challenges, he notes. (Story continues after the interview.)

Ker says one of the most significant risks farmers face is trade policy. “A particular farmer in Grey County in Ontario can do nothing to mitigate that risk in terms of a trade agreement with China or what goes on with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” says Ker. “These trade agreements seem to not be as solid as they were in the past… and they can be very impactful at the farm level.”

How about climate change? There’s lots of action these days on the climate change policy front as the Ontario and the federal governments continue at loggerheads on the carbon tax and how to tackle environmental polluters. Ontario’s new approach calls for province-wide assessment on the impacts of climate change. Ker says he’ll certainly bring his department’s perspective to the discussion as part of the Ontario business risk management review team.

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