There is always a sense of trepidation when a government announces it will table its annual budget. Many industries, agriculture included, hold their collective breath in anticipation of seeing whether their lobby efforts come to fruition.
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The Ontario government released its 2023 budget on March 23. Overall, public spending will increase a little over two per cent from last year, with significant increased investments made in health care, education and developing the province’s workforce. The Conference Board of Canada called it a “fiscally prudent” budget and there were some wins for agriculture.
Three commitments made in the province’s agri-food strategy, released last November, received funding. Although it announced a bump to the risk management programs for the agriculture sector last year, this was confirmed in the March 23 budget.
New announcements included funding to support increased veterinary capacity and improve soils.
Livestock groups in the province have been raising the alarm over lack of access to veterinary care, particularly in northern regions. A new initiative, the Veterinary Incentive Program will provide $900,000 over three years to assist 30 recent large animal veterinary graduates each year with student loans and costs to relocate to underserviced areas.
An additional 20 students per year will be enrolled in the Doctor of Veterinary Science program via a new collaboration between the University of Guelph and Lakehead University, which will add 80 more veterinary graduates in the province by 2028.
The biggest investment, $9.5 million, is allotted to improving soil health through analysis tools and digitizing the Ontario Agriculture Soil Information System.
As for direct agriculture investments, that was it.
Ontario farmers looking for relief on fertilizer costs were disappointed, as it doesn’t appear the province plans to increase the spend on its Fertilizer Accelerating Solutions & Technology Challenge, where it provided $2 million to Ontario companies working on projects or technologies to help farmers use fertilizer more efficiently. However, some of these companies may not have their technologies or products ready in time for this growing season.
Farmers looking for fertilizer cost assistance from the federal government were disappointed once again when it tabled its 2023 budget on March 28.
In a press release, farm organizations in Eastern Canada, including the Grain Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Bean Growers and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario said in a joint statement that the federal government “misses the mark” by failing to return tariffs on fertilizer imported from Russia paid by farmers. The groups had been actively lobbying for that since the tariff was implemented in March 2022.
Instead of returning tariff monies to the farmers who paid them, the federal government said the $34.1 million generated from the tariff would be reinvested into primary agriculture, through new funding to the On-Farm Climate Action Fund to support nitrogen management.
Canadian Federation of Agriculture President Keith Currie said in a release that the CFA was pleased to see “clarity” on how the tariff fees would be spent, although he acknowledged “there will be some producers across Canada that would have liked to see those funds reinvested in a fashion that more directly responds to the financial challenges.”
In its statement, Eastern Canadian farm groups said “this budget represents a huge disappointment for farmers who incurred the costs of an ineffective and ill-advised tariff. Despite warnings from the United Nations, Canada was the only G7 country to ask its farmers to pay a tariff on imported fertilizer.
“While the budget mentions the impact of the invasion in Ukraine on farmers, it does not provide a mechanism to get money back directly to farmers who paid the tariff.”
“(Required)” indicates required fields
They point to a disparity that the federal government seems to miss. Providing a fund that every farmer — even those that did not pay the tariff — can apply to for improving sustainable farming practices shouldn’t be funded in part by farmers that rely on fertilizer from overseas. And the majority of those farmers reside in Eastern Canada.
Is there a $34.1 million allotment in the federal fund that can only be accessed by those that paid the tariff? I doubt that was a consideration.
As Ontario farmers begin planting this season, it seems they will continue to pay more than many of their Canadian counterparts to grow their crops.