Provincial agriculture ministers have been given a deadline of the end of January to indicate whether they want to pursue the federal government’s proposal to enhance the AgriStability business risk management program, according to high-level sources familiar with the file.

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau offered to drop the reference margin limit and increase the compensation rate under AgriStability from 70 to 80 per cent on the final day of the federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) agriculture ministers’ annual meeting in late November. The changes would still be funded on a 60/40 basis between the federal and provincial governments, and apply until March 2023 when the current FPT agreement expires.

The federal government estimates the proposal would increase the amount of money paid to farmers through AgriStability by 50 per cent.

Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. are on board with the federal proposal, but at least two of the Prairie provinces have to agree for the changes to go ahead. So far, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have not indicated that they will take the federal offer, which would include contributing 40 per cent of the funding.

RealAgriculture has learned Bibeau’s office has told the hold-out provinces it’s willing to give them more time if they’re seriously considering the proposal, as the provincial ministers must work through their own budgeting and approval processes, however the federal minister wants an indication of intent from each province before the end of January.

There’s still a possibility the changes to AgriStability could apply retroactively to declines in farm income in 2020, but that would require the hold-out provinces getting on board “very soon,” according to one source.

At least one Saskatchewan farm group has noted concerns about dry conditions heading into the 2021 grazing and growing season in its pitch to have Minister David Marit agree to the federal proposal.

Meanwhile, Minister Bibeau highlighted the federal offer in her speech to online attendees for Saskatchewan crop commissions’ annual general meetings on January 12.

“The proposal that I have put on the table will boost AgriStability so that it pays 50 per cent more to farmers every year. That works out to about an extra $170 million in added annual support nationally. I’m happy to see positive reception from many Western grain and producer groups,” she noted.

While she did not refer to the end-of-January deadline, she said work on the enhancements to AgriStability can begin immediately if a national consensus is reached “soon.”

“At the same time, we are all focusing on long-term solutions as we begin discussions on the next policy framework for agriculture,” said the minister.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Jan 19 to note that two Prairie provinces are required to agree to the proposal for it to go ahead. It previously said only one needed to, which was incorrect.

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