It’s been a tough year for many Prairie ranchers and farmers who have suffered through the worst drought in 70 years. Last summer, I visited some of the hard-hit regions of the Prairies during the peak of the drought. It was heartbreaking to see the sun-scorched fields and to meet farm families forced to send the majority of their breeding herds to market, selling genetics developed over generations at a fraction of their worth.
Farmers needed their governments to act, and fast. Working closely with each of the affected provinces, the Government of Canada rapidly deployed programs that would deliver a total of up to $825 million in shared disaster relief funding under the AgriRecovery framework. In Alberta, more than 12,500 ranchers have already received nearly $170 million to help cover extraordinary costs, and there is more to come. We also changed the crop insurance program so that grain producers could offer their damaged crops for animal feed and still be eligible for crop insurance payments. And we got more money into the pockets of farmers through larger advance payments under the AgriStability program.
This week, I came back to the Prairies in my first outreach since being re-appointed Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to hear how producers are overcoming the immense challenges and what more can be done to help them bounce back from this tough year.
The drought was a stark reminder that farmers and ranchers are among the hardest hit by climate change. And we are now seeing the devastating effects of natural disasters in neighbouring British Columbia. My heart goes out to our farm families as floodwaters wreak immense destruction on their lands, livestock and livelihoods.
As we respond to catastrophes now, we must also look to the long term. Extreme weather events like this are adding more stress and unpredictability to farm businesses. How are we to build a sustainable sector that ensures clean water, air and soil for the next generation of producers? Farmers have made great gains in sustainable agriculture, but now is the time to double down to improve our resilience to the effects of climate change and reduce greenhouses gas emissions within the sector. Because without continued sustainability, we compromise our competitiveness. Canadian and international consumers are asking for more efforts, and this is where our trading partners are moving. That’s why this year the Government of Canada launched over half a billion dollars in new programming to help farmers adopt sustainable practices and clean technologies. We’re also working together with provinces to shape the next five-year, multi-billion dollar agricultural policy deal with a shared vision that prioritizes the sustainability of the sector.
The sky is the limit for Canada’s agriculture and food industry. We will have a huge role to play in feeding a growing world population. Alberta’s farm families can rest assured that we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them to support their growth, resilience and sustainability.
Marie-Claude Bibeau is the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food