TORONTO—On February 1, the provincial government announced changes to the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program aimed at reducing the regulatory burden and making life easier for farmers who experience livestock losses beyond their control following “extensive consultation with farmers and farming industry leaders.”
The Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program is a federal/provincial program that is intended to help farmers access compensation when they lose livestock to predators.
According to a government release, changes include more ways to provide sufficient evidence to prove wildlife predation; a more independent and transparent appeal process; better training for municipal investigators to assess predation and compensation that better reflects market prices.
“Helping Ontario farmers manage the impacts of livestock losses, by reducing their burden and saving them time, will allow them to focus on rebuilding their herds and farms,” said federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay. “Through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, our government is helping producers across Ontario and the country respond to challenges and keep their farming operations strong.”
“It’s really good,” said Green Bay farmer (and former Northeast Town councillor) Paul Skippen, who has had a number of struggles with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry over crop predation and who, along with fellow farmer and Northeast Town Councillor Bruce Wood has been lobbying the provincial government over livestock predation and crop losses for nearly 12 years.
“This government, in all fairness, said that they were going to try and make things easier for farmers,” said Mr. Skippen.
Mr. Skippen said that he has lost four cattle to wolves this year. “Three of those claims went through, two have been paid for and one is still out there.” Mr. Wood noted that he has also lost a calf to wolves this year.
According to a backgrounder on the changes, standardized pricing adjustments have been made to ensure compensation aligns with available market prices. Detailed revised pricing adjustments can be found on the ministry’s website.
But both Mr. Skippen and Mr. Wood pointed out in discussion with The Expositor that the value of a lost calf is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual impact of a predator kill.
“The last one I lost was $800,” said Mr. Wood. “What people do not understand,” continued Mr. Wood, “is that the heifer whose calf was taken will get fatter and fatter; too fat to have a calf. It was the first calf for that heifer. It should have lasted 15 years breeding, now all that feed that has gone into it is for nothing. You can’t sell it for hardly anything either.”
“With a bale of hay costing $30 to $40, it is a lot of money invested that is just gone,” said Mr. Skippen.
“Someone likened it to setting a $100 bill down on your beside table and having a mouse nibbling it away through the night,” said Mr. Wood. “In the morning you end up with nothing left.”
Loosening the rules on proving the loss was due to predators will also be welcome news for farmers the duo noted.
Under the new appeal process, notes the release backgrounder, an external group of individuals with predation and livestock expertise will provide non-binding recommendations to the ministry for consideration and final decision. This group is part of the Business Risk Management Review Committee. In addition, the grounds for appeal were clarified in the program guidelines and reviews will be limited to the issues identified by the applicant in their appeal request.
“Before it was a young lady in an office down south who was just denying everything,” said Mr. Skippen, who notes the changes will be welcome.
As part of the new regulations, there will be new training and instruction for the livestock loss evaluators.
Municipal investigators play a vital role in program delivery, continues the backgrounder, updated training and tools for municipal investigators will be delivered to ensure they are equipped to investigate incidences of livestock and poultry predation. As well, the application form has been changed to make it more user-friendly and to support municipal investigators in the evidence-gathering process.
The program is now allowing more types of evidence to be considered when evaluating an application. For example, secondary evidence, such as herd behaviour and evidence of a predator at the site, like scat or tracks, can now be used to demonstrate wildlife predation. This is in addition to primary evidence, such as blood and signs of tissue damage. However, applicants still need to provide strong evidence that will be assessed against program criteria, noted a backgrounder to the release.
In addition to the changes to the livestock loss regulations, the province has also announced changes to the Commodity Loan Guarantee Program (CLGP) in order to help farmers affected by abnormally high levels of Deoxynivalenol (DON) in this year’s corn crop. The changes include the repayment deadline being extended from February 28 to September 30 for the 2018 and 2019 program years, on a pilot basis; increasing the maximum guaranteed loan limit under the CLGP from $120 million to $200 million for the 2019 and 2020 program years, also on a pilot basis.
“With these changes, our government is addressing farmers’ concerns and helping them deal with losses beyond their control,” said Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ernie Hardeman. “Reducing unnecessary red tape and providing farmers with the tools they need to stay in business is one of the ways we are supporting those who feed our province.”
Both the federal and provincial levels of government have committed to improving the usability of regulatory processes for farmers, while maintaining standards to keep Ontarians safe and healthy, notes the release.
“These program updates will provide greater clarity for farm business owners when applying for compensation under the wildlife program, and more flexibility to repay loans under the loan guarantee program—saving time, reducing burden and relieving stress so farmers can focus on growing their businesses,” concludes the release.
Both Mr. Skippen and Mr. Wood note that they will continue to press for an expanded program that will also recognize losses of crops to migratory birds, bears and raccoons.