Changes mostly in the ‘backroom'
At first blush the latest federal budget didn't seem too bad for the agricultural sector. The farm community was expecting some reductions but no wholesale changes.
Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz put a positive spin on the whole thing by stating that the changes were mostly in the "backroom" and would not affect farmers.
On the positive side, the government announced $51.2 million over the next two years to strengthen Canada's food safety system. This will be divided between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Public Health Agency and Health Canada.
Other announcements included the expansion of eligibility for the accelerated capital cost allowance for clean energy generation equipment to include a broader range of bioenergy equipment and an additional $60 million for genomics research.
In the area of red tape reduction, government is also committed to implementing the Canada-United States Action Plan on regulatory co-operation and to simplify partnership tax administration, allowing one partner to sign a waiver to administer tax on behalf of all partners.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) will also consolidate the delivery of grants and contribution programs across the department and streamline management of the farm debt mediation service. As a result of this, it was announced all Canadian Agriculture Adaptation Councils will be closed, including the Nova Scotia council known as AgriFutures.
The CFIA is also facing a $56 million reduction by 2014-15, despite the $52 million investment into food safety mentioned earlier. This is expected to change how CFIA delivers service to industry and consumers.
The planned reductions for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada of 10 per cent are some of the most significant of any federal department, adding up to $17.1 million by 2012-13, $168.5 million in 2013-14 and $309.7 million in ongoing savings.
The only departments facing higher cuts, by review base, are finance, natural resources, privy council transport and treasury board.
Nova Scotia also recently delivered its budget estimates for 2012-13 and for the Department of Agriculture it was pretty much a repeat of the last fiscal year.
There are a few exceptions, most notably with the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Bible Hill scheduled to merge with Dalhousie University in July of this year. This will move 282 staff from the provincial agricultural department to Dalhousie and department expenses will change as this move occurs.
There are also changes in the way the budget is presented with departments realigned from four categories to two.
One of the new categories is called the policy and corporate services branch. It will provide ‘centralized co-ordination, management and support for the departments of agriculture and fisheries and aquaculture in the areas of policy development, corporate management, legislative and regulatory development, ministerial briefings, federal/provincial initiatives and programs.'
It will also lead and manage departmental crown agencies (Crop and Livestock Insurance, Farm and Fisheries Loan Boards, Natural Products Marketing Council) as well as agricultural programs development and implementation and risk management.
The other branch is agriculture and food operations. It will provide ‘funds to support agriculture and food advisory services and food quality and consumer safety.
Responsibilities include regional agricultural support, environmental management and land protection, 4-H and support for rural organizations, agricultural awareness, food safety, inspection and licensing of meat processing, analytical laboratory services and animal welfare.'
Some of the federal information is still coming out and the effects of the changes will take some time to absorb. The provincial picture is a bit clearer since there are no large changes to the budget amounts.
Henry Vissers is the executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, which represents the interests of over 2,400 farm families in the province. He lives in Valley.