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Saskatchewan budget leaves producers with questions as potential drought looms

The newly-announced Saskatchewan provincial budget largely focuses on education and health care, leaving some farmers searching for more from the government.

The budget includes increases in the overall funding put towards agriculture, as well as for risk management measures like crop insurance. In total, the budget includes more than $570 million towards agriculture.

But with a drought expected to hit this summer, will the cash be enough to cover crop losses?

“I think overall we’re happy,” APAS president Ian Boxall said. “I applaud the government for recognizing the importance of the agriculture sector to the Saskatchewan economy.”

The government also made further commitments to more irrigated land.

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“We believe that it’s frankly essential for our industry to grow in this province,” Grant McLellan, the Saskatchewan Cattleman’s Association CEO, said. “In terms of what Alberta has seen with their feeding sector and livestock sector, irrigation has played a fundamental role.”

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Producers aren’t expecting the infrastructure to have an effect for years but are looking for more support for farmers dealing with sustained drought in the short term.

“As we see areas that are having multi-year droughts, it becomes a hard hit when you’re also paying more premium on your crop insurance as well as reduced yield,” Boxall went on to say.

Currently, crop insurance is only applied after two consecutive years during which production is below 70 per cent of the average. APAS is asking for it to kick in after any year under that amount.

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“Maybe that’s a small adjustment we can make to the program moving forward just to alleviate some of that pain,” Boxall said.

An expected surplus last fiscal year was eaten away in part because of higher costs caused by water shortages. The finance minister, Donna Harpauer, expects this budget will cover any potential hardship.

“We have the funds to address a drought like last year, but the previous year we were reliant on our reinsurance, and we are still supporting reinsurance should there be a catastrophic province-wide drought,” Harpauer said.

Funding for different federal-provincial risk management programs is set at $431.7 million, up nearly $24 million from the year before. The funding includes money for crop insurance and AgriStability.

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