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Agriculture producers say they were hoping for more help in the federal budget

REGINA - Agriculture producers who looked to Ottawa for help with their struggling industry say the federal government hasn't ponied up enough cash.

REGINA - Agriculture producers who looked to Ottawa for help with their struggling industry say the federal government hasn't ponied up enough cash.

Greg Marshall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said the group was looking for more support for Canada's beleaguered livestock sector in the federal budget unveiled Tuesday.

"There's very little ... in the way of firm details, so we have to reserve some comment of course," said Marshall.

"I guess we have to say though that we are disappointed in what we see in the lack of direct financial support for agriculture. We have livestock producers who are particularly in a crisis and we're highly disappointed there isn't direct financial support for them."

According to the budget, the government will implement a five-year, $500 million agricultural flexibility program. The plan, proposed last fall in the Conservatives election campaign platform, is aimed at helping the sector adapt to pressures and improve its competitiveness.

The budget allocates $190 million over two years to support the agricultural flexibility program. The balance will be funded from existing unallocated Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada resources.

Marshall said that's "woefully inadequate."

"We have no idea how that $500 million will be distributed amongst the provinces," he said.

"We have a portion of $500 million dollars, divide that by five years and the number of provinces and it equates to very little money back to Saskatchewan producers."

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he didn't know what number would be enough to help cattle producers "because the hurt is significant." Like Marshall, Wall said there is a lack of information in the budget about help for the sector.

"There was language in the budget speech itself that talked about livestock producers specifically, so maybe they're going to build into some federal program the flexibility that allows for support to the livestock sector. That's what we're going to be pressing for," said Wall.

"The language is there, but again the details are not and this is pretty important for our province," said the premier.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the idea for the flexibility program originally came from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture with a $50 million price tag. Ritz argued that the $500 million program "is far beyond what anybody was asking for."

Ritz rebuffed criticisms that the budget doesn't do enough for the agriculture industry.

"Certainly there are squeaky wheels that will never be happy with whatever is done but you know the average farmer out there is on the right track," said Ritz.

He said tax cuts and injection into infrastructure projects will also help farmers.

But the comments were little consolation for Marshall after it was noted that the auto industry is getting $2.7 billion in short-term loans to bolster the struggling industry.

"Our Canadian government has more support for the auto industry then it does for the people that feed this country," said Marshall.

 
 
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