P.E.I. oyster growers say this fall’s early freeze highlights the need for a government insurance program for their industry.
Like many land farmers, growers are concerned the unseasonably cold weather and ice-filled bays and rivers could ultimately kill some of their crop.
The P.E.I. government has already paid out $11 million in claims this year through its crop insurance program, P.E.I.’s Agriculture Minister Robert Henderson says — but that insurance isn’t available to the farmed shellfish industry.
You’ve got two or three years invested in a crop, so the opportunity for a loss is higher.— Shawn Cooke
“As an association, we’ve asked government before if they’d be interested in including us in a program like crop insurance … thinking the oyster industry is a lot like the farming industry. But we’ve never had any success,” said Shawn Cooke, president of the Island Oyster Growers Group.
Cooke maintains private insurance premiums would be too costly for most Island oyster growers.
He said without access to a government program, growers are vulnerable to major financial losses, which may be the reality for some this year.
“As the farms grow and more fellas are getting into it, everyone’s got more invested into it,” said Cooke.
“And it’s very intensive, because you’ve got two or three years invested in a crop, so the opportunity for a loss is higher … There’s definitely risks.”
Growers not considered farmers
The cost of crop insurance programs is shared between both levels of government and farmers.The program allows for much lower premiums than farmers would pay through a private plan.
While provinces administer the programs, it’s ultimately Agriculture Canada that sets the rules.
The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) says the problem for oyster growers and other seafood farmers is that they’re not considered farmers by Agriculture Canada.
“Because of that, we’ve always fallen under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and that has limited our access,” said Tim Kennedy, CAIA’s executive director.
“We think the time is very ripe that we are taken under the umbrella of Agriculture Canada for growth purposes, and that includes access to the risk programs and support programs long enjoyed by [land] farmers.”
‘Critical for that support to be there’
Kennedy said for years, his alliance has been lobbying the federal government to make that change.
He said the challenges facing P.E.I. oyster growers this fall point to the urgent need for insurance.
“That support is needed for the farmers and the communities,” said Kennedy. “This is a significant risk. The margins are very small in the shellfish sector, and that’s why it’s really critical for that support to be there. It shouldn’t be this difficult.”
In a statement emailed to CBC News, DFO media relations’ Carole Saindon says the need for government-funded insurance for aquaculture producers has been explored, and “preliminary reviews have found that there are a few key risks potentially affecting aquaculture producers, such as disease outbreaks and climate induced impacts. These risks are both sporadic and highly variable across the country.”
The federal government “will continue to engage with the aquaculture industry on this request,” she added.
Source – https://www.cbc.ca