Que. farmers grant snowmobilers access in ASRA scrap

Quebec’s general farm organization has dropped its directive for the province’s farmers to refuse snowmobilers access to rural trails on their land this winter.

L’Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) announced Friday it had ended its directive, which it adopted in early November in a bid to provoke provincial response on UPA’s concerns over changes to the province’s ag income stabilization program (ASRA).

At issue, leading to a number of organized farmer protests before last month’s directive was announced, was the plan announced in April by la Financiere agricole de Quebec (FADQ, which delivers ASRA) to revise ASRA’s cost-of-production models.

The new cost-of-production models are to be based on an average from the top 75 per cent of the province’s farms in terms of performance, rather than from all Quebec farms.

That measure will go ahead as planned, provincial Agriculture Minister Laurent Lessard said in a separate release Friday, but it will come with “transitional measures” to take regional and sectoral variations into account, such as in the grass-fed veal or lamb industries.

UPA, in its own statement Friday, said Lessard has agreed to inform FADQ that any program surplus is to be paid out to those farmers who would be affected by the tightened cost-of-production model.

The surplus payout, UPA said, would be capped at the level of support an eligible farmer would have been received from ASRA under the previous model. Such payouts are to continue under ASRA until the end of March 2013 and would then be re-evaluated by FADQ, the association said.

Lessard, in his release Friday, emphasized that the provincial agriculture ministry (MAPAQ) and the board of FADQ are “on the same wavelength” on this matter.

“It was never our intention to make money with ASRA,” he said, but again stressed that the program’s cost-of-production model needed to be revised, to ensure Quebec’s ag industry is responsive to signals from the market, and that the province can continue to afford the program.

The province in October had rolled out a five-year, $100 million fund for  “family” farm businesses with small volumes of production, particularly in the lamb, beef cattle and hog sectors, to adapt and restructure ahead of changes in ASRA, including interest relief and support for financial analysis and planning and business counselling.

“Sigh of relief”

UPA on Friday acknowledged the province’s “openness” in resolving the matter, and said the new approach to income support would afford farmers the safety net they need to continue development of their respective ag sectors.

Provincial Transport Minister Norman MacMillan said in Lessard’s release he was pleased to see the matter resolved in time for the start of snowmobiling season.

“The thousands of people for whom the snowmobiling industry is an important livelihood or an enjoyable hobby are breathing a sigh of relief,” he said.

Tourism Minister Nicole Menard noted the snowmobiling sector generates over $700 million annually, including an estimated $122 million coming in with visitors from out-of-province.

The benefits are appreciable, she said, for local businesses, hoteliers and restaurant owners in all regions of the province.

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