Ahead of this week’s federal budget, farmers in Ontario and points east were eagerly anticipating news of how approximately $34.1 million collected against sales of fertilizer was going to be spent in an effort to “return” the proceeds to those who paid the tariff.
The answer to that question is what we lead off with in this interview with Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Marie-Claude Bibeau. Below, RealAgriculture’s Lyndsey Smith asks about the decision to roll the tariff funds in to the On-Farm Climate Action Fund, where the $333 million for dairy solids non-fat research came from, and why Bibeau voted “nay” on Bill C-234 this week.
Here is an edited-for-length-and-clarity transcription of the audio above:
Q: This budget puts the equivalent of fertilizer tariffs paid by farmers into the On-Farm Climate Action Fund. Why was that the chosen route to go with those funds?
Marie-Claude Bibeau: Well, we have obviously considered a direct reimbursement, but it was not feasible… We’ve had a lot of discussions with the representatives of the grain farmers and and the agriculture sector more generally, and we came to the conclusion that the on farm Climate Action Fund was the best vehicle mechanism to put back the money into the sector in a way that it will support farmers in their efforts to adopt the best practices to do to do the best management of their fertilizer. So this is, I would say the best plan B that we we came with in consultation with the sector.
Q: Will all farmers in Eastern Ontario have access to these funds?
Marie-Claude Bibeau: Yes, Ontario, Quebec in the Atlantic [will have access] because these are those who were affected by the tariffs because they are importing fertilizer from Russia.
Q: Will we see more Sustainable Canadian Agriculture Program agreements rolled out shortly?
Marie-Claude Bibeau: Yes, of course, we came to an agreement with each and every provinces. Our officials are finalizing the little details. But it’s almost ready to roll out in each and every province of the country.
Q: Avian influenza was not mentioned in the budget. Is there extra funding potentially for those impacted by avian influenza going forward?
Marie-Claude Bibeau: Well, we already have the programs in place, the first one being directly within CFIA when they order depopulation… [there are] other business risk management programs like AgriStability, or AgriRecovery [that are] programs built in a way that it will respond to the needs in collaboration with the provinces, of course. So we did not have money for avian influenza. But the good good news in terms of Animal Health is that we got the money for the Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine bank, and this is a big, big deal for our beef and dairy producers, but it could also impact pork and other you know, meat sector, livestock sector, I should say. So, this is a very good news.
Q: Why the $333 million for a solids non-fat research and development fund?
Marie-Claude Bibeau: Actually, [the money] is part of the compensation that we have calculated for the the free trade agreements with the United States and Mexico; it’s not an additional fund, it’s really within the compensation envelope that I have announced this few few months ago, it was $300 million. It’s a little bit more because we have looked at the program and some some of the money was not being used. So we just included it in. And so it’s really part of the compensation package. It’s not an additional money. And instead of giving, making direct transfer to the dairy producers, for the full amount, we put aside a $300 million for this specific initiative to find markets for surplus non fat.
Q: Bill C-234, did pass third reading and is headed to the Senate. Some of your Liberal colleagues voted yea, one abstained, you voted nay. Why did you not support this bill?
Marie-Claude Bibeau: I’m a member of the government. And I have you know, all the occasions to advocate on my very best for the sector. But we all believe in this government that the price and pollution is a pillar of our environmental strategy. So I think we’ve done a lot to support farmers, starting with the [carbon tax] exemptions on gas and diesel at the farm. We are also returning proceeds collected in proportion of the amount collected via the price on pollution so we returned $100 million to farmers in 2021, and 22 and 120 million. This is the year that is just finishing right now we’re investing $1.5 billion in agro environmental programming. So I think we’re doing a lot a lot to support our farmers. But the pricing pollution is a pillar is the It’s really the bigger pillar of our environmental strategy. And so I’m supporting this approach, while working extremely hard to make sure that our farmers are supported in different ways. And as we said earlier, the budget was still good and and we will soon roll out additional money for the agricultural clean tech program for the On-FArm Climate Action Fund program. I knew that I have from budget 2022 still. So I think we have a lot of wins for the ag sector.