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Resolving Agricorp issues

By Geri Kamenz,

Ontario farmers who rely on Agricorp as an integral part of their farming operation’s business plan will need to continue to be patient.
The audit that examined the value for dollars spent on Agricorp has been done and the report issued. We knew there was abundant room for improvements in the management of operations at Agricorp, most verified by the findings of the audit.
Many of the problems the farming community suspected were behind Agricorp’s inability to fulfil its mandate to serve the farming community of Ontario have been revealed by the audit. Correcting those problems will take a lot longer than it took the minister to order the audit.
As an example, the audit found the computer software and hardware used by Agricorp to be inadequate for what it is expected to do. Agricorp’s plan is to update that equipment by 2012, but that’s dependant on funding approval from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. How much longer might that take?
One of the major difficulties that prompted farmers to repeatedly call for the audit of Agricorp was its delivery of the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program - CAIS. Ironically or otherwise, the audit recommends that Agricorp should continue to deliver CAIS.
Fully, 11 of the 17 recommendations address the complexity of the CAIS program and the resulting problems in delivery.
We can hope the move to new, less complicated programs contained in the Growing Forward initiative will result in improvements to the delivery process for Agricorp. If the objectives of the safety net programs are to get funding into the hands of eligible producers in a timely manner, government officials at all levels are going to have to provide program designs and delivery mechanisms more geared to that objective.
A special report for Minister Dombrowsky accompanied results of the audit. It points out many of the problems associated with Agricorp’s delivery of the CAIS program could be anticipated. Complexities within the program make that a given, according to the special report.
It states ‘the CAIS system was not originally designed to process a program as complex and frequently changing as the CAIS also requires significant manual processing....and has a programming structure that can lead to payment errors.’
Another recommendation of the audit is to provide improved communications with producers. One major improvement would be timely responses to questions from producers - they need to know what’s happening with their application and when payments will be provided.
That is fundamental to sound farm business management practices.
Familiar with the effectiveness achieved by its staff of Member Service Representatives, OFA can strongly endorse the audit’s recommendation that Agricorp have field service staff in place to serve farmers on a regional basis.
Now that the difficulties have been identified, we need to press forward with needed improvements. Farming is a massive and complex industry requiring massive and complex financial responses. Delays in delivery of programs intended to put dollars into the hands of farmers during specific crisis cannot be tolerated.
Everything possible must be done to ensure safety net programs are delivered with maximum efficiency. Waiting until 2012 for improvements to Agricorp’s computer system isn’t going to meet the needs of Ontario farmers.