Is it time to re-think farm support programs?

Reading through some online farm publications I came across a piece suggesting that because of the heightened concern over food security due to COVID-19 it would be a good time to once again seek to fix agriculture support programs.

The magic formula to create a farm program that answers all of the challenges of farm producers has proven a difficult elixir to concoct.

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You can go back to the early 1990s when the Gross Revenue Insurance Plan (GRIP) and Net Income Stabilization Accounts (NISA) were the plans which were supposed to be the answer, but proved not to be.

Since the days of GRIP and NISA a variety of programs have been created, then found wanting by at least one sector of farming, tinkered with, and ultimately remaining flawed in the eyes of some.

The problem that ultimately proves insurmountable is the diversity within the farm sector that a farm program is supposed to protect.

In Canada we hold to the idea of government programs that cover everyone.

In an area such as health care, having a universal program is a straightforward, common sense approach to things.

But, it shouldn’t be the primary approach taken on developing every government program.

There are times governments need to be brave in choosing what will be seen as winners and losers when offering up a new program. It, for example, might be time to focus on protecting the municipal infrastructure of key communities rather than splashing dollars to all based on population numbers. There has been a trend of disappearing communities for decades now, and government might best serve the collective future by expediting that trend in some cases.

In terms of farming that might not be the exact path to take, but there does appear to be a need to try a different way.

The first step might be a more fractured safety net.

The needs of a potato producer in Prince Edward Island are not the same as the needs of a canola farmer in Saskatchewan, or a cattle rancher in Alberta, or an orchard operator in British Columbia.

The core need of financial stability might be the same, but how you achieve that, the formulas, the timing of payouts and so on are going to be quite different. If you try to include everything in a single program, a solution for all by broad consensus if you will, the result is likely to be watered down to the point where most are left wanting something better.

So, if COVID-19 spurs yet another look at farm safety nets, bite-sized solutions might ultimately be more effective than seeking a one-program-serves-all answer.