By Trevor Busch
Cattle producers in southeastern Alberta experiencing extraordinary costs due to bovine tuberculosis (bovine TB) quarantine measures will be eligible for financial assistance under the AgriRecovery Framework.
While the aid announced by the federal government last week totals approximately $16.7 million, Bow River MP Martin Shields questioned the timeline for getting financial relief to hard-pressed producers in an expedited fashion.
“As we all know, when governments announce a program, there’s a lot more details to be done,” said Shields. “So I’ve talked with the minister (Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay). It’s a cost share between the province and the feds. The province I understand will be working on getting the paperwork in line, so there’s going to be applications criteria. They’re working on getting that done. My hope is the documentation isn’t so long and complicated it takes three accountants to figure it out, and that these guys can apply for it. It’s going to take some time, which is very frustrating, but that’s a process you deal with in accessing this type of program.”
In the meantime, producers can continue to access immediate help to address cash flow pressures through the Advance Payments Program. Under APP, producers are eligible for an advance up to $400,000, with the first $100,000 being interest free.
After the presence of bovine tuberculosis was detected in a cow shipped to the U.S. in October, ranches near CFB Suffield remain under quarantine as Canadian food safety officials continue to test for the disease.
“I really do believe that the rancher that appeared in person, the two by teleconference, really made the difference to get people’s attention, other than just politicians talking to politicians about the issue — but they heard right from the people of the challenges that they’re having, the frustrations in the process, I think when they actually heard from those people it began to make some difference,” said Shields about securing financial assistance for producers. “Them telling their stories is very different from me complaining.”
The 2016 Bovine Tuberculosis Assistance Initiative will provide assistance to producers to cover the extraordinary costs they are facing as a result of the quarantine measures. This includes feeding and water infrastructure, feed for the animals, transportation, cleaning and disinfection as well as interest costs on loans due to the circumstances. Governments will be working with the industry in the coming days on the program specifics to ensure the program meets producers’ needs while being delivered in a simple and timely manner.
While federal assistance is welcomed, Shields is less convinced the CFIA’s inspectors and officials are doing all that they can to complete herd inspections in a timely manner.
“There is a tremendous amount of anger, frustration, and to some extent desperation out there amongst the ranching people. The communication is just not good enough. There was a meeting that happened in Jenner here a couple of nights ago (last week), and those guys are pursuing some other options to do with property rights, and legal opinions. The communication is just not good enough. They need people on the ground, out actually there in the area dealing with them and communicating effectively, or the ones that are out there have got to be able to speak about what’s happening.”
The federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) cost-shared suite of Business Risk Management (BRM) programs can assist producers experiencing severe income declines due to quarantine measures. AgriRecovery was designed as an FPT disaster relief framework intended to work together with the core BRM programs to help agricultural producers recover from natural disasters.
“The CFIA talked about communicating through the cattle organizations,” said Shields. “Well, these aren’t unions, and those are very independent guys out there, and whether these organizations are doing this, they’re still not dealing with individuals and communication well enough. So there’s some very angry people out there that are pursuing some other options — and I said this to the CFIA chief — you want to see this thing resolved, you don’t want to make it worse, so these guys are in a situation where they could make this process, or the whole thing, more difficult. And that’s not going to help anybody.”
Following the announcement last week, Shields participated in a Dec. 1 teleconference call with Canada’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, from the CFIA.
“The total number of animals affected thus far is over 20,000 head, and that number will likely change as investigations and testing continues,” said Shields in a written release regarding the conference call. “They are required to trace the cattle’s movement for the last five years.”
Shields learned that since testing began, cases of bovine TB detected have risen to six (including the initial incident) animals, with a total of 18 ranch operations having their herds sent to slaughter, while 30 more operations have now been added to the quarantine list.
“The sampling on the original 18 quarantined properties is nearly complete, and shortly the focus will shift to on-farm testing of other affected herds. The compensation provided under the Health of Animals Act provisions was discussed, which provides fair market value per head,” said Shields.
Shields reiterated his displeasure over the communications issues which in his opinion have plagued the process thus far.
“I reminded Dr. Kochhar very bluntly that it is crucial that CFIA be communicating with the individual affected ranchers directly, and that communicating through their industry groups alone was not enough. Dr. Kochhar proposed that instead of having a single conference call a week, they could offer a second. Also, I reiterated that our frustrated farmers and ranchers are discussing alternative ways to deal with the situation. These alternative ways would not be in the best interest of ensuring testing is completed as planned, and the right way for CFIA to approach this is through better communication with farmers and ranchers who are affected.”
Bovine TB is a reportable disease in Canada and has been subject to a mandatory national eradication program since 1923. The CFIA indicates Canada is considered to be officially free of the disease, although isolated cases may occur. The most recent case of bovine TB detected in Canada was five years ago in British Columbia.
For more information, producers should contact AFSC toll free at 1-877-899-2372 or by email at info@AFSC.ca.