Opinion Column

Manitoba Budget Missing Producer Priorities

Cam Dahl, General Manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers

What should go into making a provincial budget? A budget should reflect the needs and goals of the people of Manitoba. If a budget is well crafted, each citizen of the province would see themselves reflected in the decisions of government.

So is the 2012 provincial budget well crafted? From the perspective of Manitoba's beef producers, the response to that question is mixed.

On the one hand, beef producers were pleased to see a commitment in the budget to a forage restoration program for pasture and hayland flooded in the spring of 2011. A significant number of Manitoba's pasture and forage lands are still underwater. Land that was flooded last spring will take years to rehabilitate. Restoring this land's productivity is crucial for producers who are still suffering because of the 2011 flood.

Like many in rural Manitoba, Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) also welcomed the budget increase to Infrastructure and Transportation. Many bridges and roads damaged by the flood remain unrepaired. In some cases producers have to detour up to 200 km just to pick up the mail. Restoring provincial roads and bridges within the Shoal Lakes complex, Lake Manitoba region and the southwest part of the province should be a priority for the Government of Manitoba.

Those are a couple of bright spots in the budget. But many beef producer priorities were not addressed. For example, MBP hoped to see provisions that would implement cattle price insurance, provide for an effective environmental goods and services program and a herd protection program.

The 2011 flood created economic hardship for beef producers in the province. It is imperative for the provincial government to make a budgetary commitment to responsible drainage and water management, such as the creation of new drains, maintenance of existing drains, and new long-term flood mitigation efforts. MBP will continue to urge the province to implement long-term flood mitigation measures to alleviate future flooding and to avoid another 2011 flood.

The focus of producers in Manitoba is on government actions that would help ensure that beef production will be profitable in Manitoba for many years to come. This should matter to every single citizen of this province. The profitability of agriculture should matter to every Manitoban. The industry makes up about 28 per cent of the province's GDP and it is Manitoba's single largest wealth-generating activity.

Beef production alone creates demand for $635 million in goods and services every year. This economic driver means much more than just the survival of our rural communities. Winnipeg, Brandon and other major urban centers receive extensive economic derivatives of our industry's wealth creation. This translates into jobs and growth, benefitting everyone in the province.

Budget 2012 will result in increased taxes for everyone in Manitoba, but the impact may be felt especially hard in rural areas. Increased fuel costs translate into decreased returns for cattle that have to be trucked significant distances to market. Increased transportation costs also drive up the costs of almost everything coming onto a farm from livestock feed to equipment repairs.

Commuters may be cringing at having to pay hundreds of dollars more in fuel costs to get to work as a result of budget 2012. Manitoba's beef producers are measuring these cost increases by the many thousands. These cost increases will make production in Manitoba less competitive when compared to other jurisdictions.

Similarly, producers are concerned that the extension of the provincial sales taxes to additional services such as insurance will have a disproportionate impact on their operations.

There is a growing divide between the urban public and rural Manitoba. There are fewer and fewer people in urban areas who understand that agriculture impacts their pocket books. When voters don't understand agriculture the people they elect don't understand the industry either. This leads to legislation and policy that target agriculture instead of recognizing that producers are society's partners in economic growth and environmental protection. Legislators who don't understand producers can unknowingly bring forward polices that impede agriculture business and hurt farmers' bottom lines.

MBP will continue to work with our elected officials to ensure that they and the public at large have an increasing understanding of the economic and social contributions of producers. Increased understanding and awareness will help improve the odds that the next time producers look at a provincial budget they will see themselves clearly reflected back to the rest of the public.

-Cam Dahl is the general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers.

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