Consensus, collaboration and KAP

Bill Campbell asks Manitoba farmers to get more involved with their general farm organization

Allan Dawson | Manitoba Co-operator | Feb. 3, 2022

Collaboration and consensus building, hallmarks of Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) since its founding 38 years ago, remain front and centre.

“At every turn, we emphasize collaboration with farmers, commodity groups and governments,” KAP president Bill Campbell told the farm organization’s online annual meeting Jan. 25.

“We know that farmers’ issues are interconnected. No matter the commodity, we have common interests, and we need to work together.”

It has always been thus. And not surprisingly since KAP, by provincial law, is Manitoba’s “official” general farm organization, entitled to collect a refundable checkoff from Manitoba farmers to finance itself.

Moreover, KAP rose from the ashes of the Manitoba Farm Bureau, an umbrella organization consisting of commodity groups, anchored financially by farmer-owned grain companies Manitoba Pool Elevator (MPE) and United Grain Growers (UGG). The bureau foundered when it failed to reach consensus over grain transportation policy in the early 1980s and some members pulled their membership and chequebooks.

It was a lesson KAP leaders so far have never forgotten. But if KAP is to continue to represent Manitoba farmers, it needs those farmers to participate.

“As KAP approaches its 40th anniversary in 2024, I want to emphasize the fact that engagement is vital to our role as the voice of Manitoba farmers,” Campbell, who farms at Minto, said.

“We have a great team led by our general manager, Brenna Mahoney, but at the end of the day it’s on us as farmers. You can help chart the direction of the sector through KAP’s policy committees, meetings, task forces and working groups. We need you to get involved, whether through these opportunities or by joining your local district. Delivering KAP’s vision requires the effort of everyone around our table.”

Farmers working together can accomplish a lot, Campbell said, pointing to KAP’s role in bringing commodity groups together last summer to work with governments on drought assistance.

“We’re continuing to work on the drought, focusing on medium- and long-term needs through our discussions and consultations with the province and our partners,” he said.

KAP priorities for 2022 include advocacy, regulatory modernization and outreach, Campbell said.

KAP’s four key policy priorities are: business risk management (BRMs) programs to support farmers, sustainability and the environment, rural economic development in rural Manitoba and public trust in agriculture.

KAP hasn’t given up hope that AgriStability’s compensation level can go to 80 per cent from 70 when the new five-year federal-provincial Agricultural Policy Framework takes effect April 2023.Campbell said in an interview later he was encouraged that federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has been speaking to Manitoba’s new agriculture minister, Derek Johnson about BRMs.

“There is continual conversations, but the timelines are becoming tighter so there will need to be some form of final negotiation so we’ll see what governments are able to provide,” he said.

Making that change would put $95 million into farmers’ pockets, Bibeau told the KAP meeting in a recorded video.

While Ottawa supports the change, the Manitoba government hasn’t because it would cost it more money.

“And for the longer term ministers have agreed to make the program more timely, equitable, (and) easy to understand, while supporting the competitiveness and sustainability of the sector,” she said.

Bibeau also said Manitoba farmers will be eligible for proceeds from carbon pricing through responsible tax credits in the 2021 tax year.

“These could help them invest in clean technologies on the farm,” she said.

In his address, Campbell called that “a good step,” but “our initial analysis and conversations indicate that it doesn’t go far enough.”

Details of the plan were announced in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s fiscal update in December.

The return of fuel charge proceeds will be available to farmers who incur total farming expenses of $25,000 or more.

Farmers can claim these refundable tax credits through their tax returns that include the 2021 and 2022 calendar years.

The payment rates are $1.47 and $1.73 per $1,000 in eligible farming expenses in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

“I believe it’s a carbon pricing rebate on all of your expenses,” Campbell said in an interview.

“We are encouraged that the federal government acknowledged that this carbon tax is a production and competitiveness issue.”

KAP’s concern is the compensation rate is too low relative to the capital costs farmers face to cut carbon emissions, he added.

“We also strongly believe that the provincial government and the federal government need to come to some form of agreement with regards to carbon pricing revenue from Manitoba staying in Manitoba and those carbon tax revenues from agriculture staying in the agriculture sector,” Campbell said. “If you collect carbon taxes from agriculture you use it for agriculture programs.”

There’s speculation the Manitoba government may try to come up with its own carbon tax so it collects the revenue instead of Ottawa.

“We’ve been clear that in Manitoba, any plan must include an exemption on fuel used for drying grain and heating barns and return all tax revenue earned from agricultural activities to the sector,” Campbell told the meeting.

KAP has also called on the Manitoba government to continue phasing out education taxes on property, including farmland and buildings. The government’s next budget is expected to reveal the government’s intentions.

“What agriculture needs is stability in a taxation program in regards to education funding,” Campbell said in an interview. “We need to have some form of clarity and certainty as to the direction of an education funding model in Manitoba.”

As Campbell begins his fourth and final year as KAP president due to term limits, he said he’s optimistic about 2022.

“We have snowbanks,” he said. “There shall be run-off.”

Crop insurance coverage is at record levels and crop prices are still relatively strong.

“I have always thought Feb. 1 is halfway through the feeding cycle of the livestock,” Campbell said. “If you’ve got this far and your hay is half left then hopefully we can make it.”

Asked about his legacy, Campbell joked about finding a cure for COVID, fixing the drought and having green grass May 1.

“I guess I will reflect and build on what we’ve been doing. I still have 365 days to go. I am still up to the challenge and still have things to do.

“I will carry on with the responsibilities of the KAP president and representing the organization and farmers in Manitoba.”