AWC chair hopes Team Alberta approach will make Ottawa take action on key issues
By Tim Kalinowski
Alberta’s crop commissions are hoping for a positive response from Ottawa about several issues, including grain cash ticket deferrals, grain transport and giving additional aid to those still struggling with unharvested acres, explains Alberta Wheat Commission chair Kevin Auch. Ottawa seems to be listening, he says, but the commission intends to keep making its point of view known through the Team Alberta approach, a united front of all the province’s crop commissions.
According to Auch, grain cash tickets deferrals are of particular concern right now. Ottawa recently proposed stopping the industry from engaging in cash ticket deferrals, which allow farmers to better sustain a steady income without worrying about paying excessive taxes in any one year.
“From what I can tell, it’s one of those things where it looks like a good idea on paper for them, but I don’t think it was analyzed that well,” says Auch. “It kind of snuck past people and somebody down the line thought it was a good idea. We are trying to explain to the government why it is there, and the importance of leaving it alone.”
Auch believes the motivation behind the federal government’s proposal to axe deferrals was a desire to generate more tax revenue from agriculture, but the AWC and its other commission counterparts have taken pains to explain why this would be such a lousy tax generation tool to the feds.
“Yes, they might be able to find a few more tax dollars, but it will be short term though,” explains Auch. “They will just end up paying it back the next year is what will happen… And they will probably give back even more in the end because a lot of us will be making many fewer sales and we’ll have a lot less income (to tax). So it’s not going to do what they think it’s going to do for revenues.”
On the other hand, says Auch, it would do devastating harm to the sustainability of many farm operations throughout the province.
“It’s going to make a farmer’s income swing more up or down than what it should. In the long-term, it will actually lower our income because there is going to be the incentive to miss sales because of it. Sales may come along are going to be a good price, but there will be no incentive for the farmer to sell if he is going to have to be thinking: Yeah, it’s a good price, but if I sell anymore right now I am just going to knock myself into the next tax bracket and pay way too much tax too early. And it will just mess up my cashflow. So I will just wait until the beginning of my new crop year.
“The problem is that sale may not be there anymore at that point. The grain buyer needs it when he needs it.”
Another issue of ongoing concern the AWC is addressing with Ottawa is the need to bring in permanent and binding grain transportation laws which would protect farmers from the vicissitudes of the two national railways, which, in effect, have an impregnable monopoly in the Canadian marketplace. However, Auch is not confident it will happen before the spring sitting of the House of Commons ends. He is hoping the federal government will grant another year extension on the current emergency legislation brought in under the former Harper government in the mean time.
“I would like to see them at least extend the provisions we have now, the emergency provisions that came into effect following the 2013/14 grain transport crisis,” confirms Auch.
Unharvested acres is another big concern for the AWC, says Auch.
“I hope the weather changes for us all so the farmers who were worst-affected can get things dried up and get out on the land and do something with that crop.
“If it’s marketable crop, great, let’s get it in the bin. If it’s not, let’s do with it what we have to do with it so we can get this year’s crop in the ground and avoid this late year harvest disaster for a second year in a row.”
Auch says government may ultimately have an important role to play to ensure those with unharvested acres are taken care of in the unlikely event they are unable to get a spring crop in this year.
“This is very serious. Farmers have payments for bills and land rentals. There are all types of costs which come to us regardless if we seed or not. The optimum is get your seed in the ground and get a crop, but if that doesn’t happen we are going to have to have something to tide those guys over who are affected the worst.”