Manitoba still working on details for cattle set-aside program

More than two months after the federal government announced $50 million in emergency funding for provinces that want to offer cattle set-aside programs, the Manitoba government has still not released any information on what the program will look like for beef producers in the province.

The cattle set-aside initiatives aim to help cover the costs of keeping animals longer as processing capacity has been reduced due to COVID-19, with federal funding coming from the AgriRecovery disaster relief fund.

AgriRecovery programs normally require participating provincial governments to contribute 40 per cent of the cost of the aid program, with the federal government funding the rest. However, in this instance, the federal government initiated the program, as part of the COVID-19 response, leaving it up to each province to decide if it will top-up the remaining portion.

Both Alberta and Saskatchewan announced their provincial funding for cattle set-aside programs, as well as information on how they would work, within two weeks of Prime Minister Trudeau’s AgriRecovery funding announcement on May 5, 2020. The Ontario government also announced a beef cattle set-aside program, as well as support for hog producers, under the AgriRecovery program in mid-June.

Manitoba Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen, in late May, said his province would also participate in the AgriRecovery program, but as of this week, the government has not announced any program or shared any information on how it might work.

“We are working with the federal government to develop an initiative and details are currently being finalized,” says Pedersen’s spokesperson, in an email this week. “Further information will be available in the coming weeks.”

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau originally indicated the federal funds would be available even if provinces did not contribute the 40 per cent normally required for an AgriRecovery program, so it’s not clear at this time whether the Manitoba government will be topping up the federal amount as governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario have done.

“It’s our understanding that the provincial government has signed on for the federal portion of an AgriRecovery initiative related to a set-aside program, that it is assessing the cost-shared component of it, as well as how the program would look for Manitoba,” says Manitoba Beef Producers.

While a set-aside program generally deals directly with feedlots finishing cattle, Manitoba’s cattle sector is heavily weighted toward cow-calf production, so it’s possible this is a reason why the roll-out has taken this long. The Manitoba government is also focused on reducing spending where possible, so there may be some reluctance to funding the program, despite Pedersen’s commitment to doing so.

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