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Federal officials say an administrative error led to overpayments totalling $13.5 million to Saskatchewan farmers. The farm support program is administered at the federal agriculture offices in Winnipeg. ((Google Streetview))

Saskatchewan farmers got $13.5 million more than they should have under two national agriculture support programs, due to an unexplained administrative error in 2003.

A recent order-in-council said the federal government would not try to recoup the overpayments, valued at $13,473,405.

The order did not explain how the error took place, nor when the mistake was discovered.

An official in the federal agriculture department told CBC News Friday that no one in the bureaucracy was available to answer questions about the error.

"There are instances where producers were overpaid. We will not be seeking to recover these amounts," Patrick Girard, a spokesman for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, said. "This is a simple question of fairness, and it would be unreasonable to recover these payments which resulted from an administrative error seven years ago."

Normally, an order-in-council is prepared with supporting background information to explain the rationale behind the decision.

Girard said he would see if that information could be released.

'This is a simple question of fairness.'—Federal agriculture department spokesman Patrick Girard

Most of the money, $10.9 million, was overpaid through the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization Program, or CAIS, a joint federal-provincial support for farmers. A new program replaced CAIS in 2007.

Farmers who participated in CAIS received benefits when their incomes fell below an average of previous years. In order to take advantage of the benefit, farmers were required to buy into the program.

According to the department 23,133 Saskatchewan farmers received some money from their CAIS accounts in 2003. It was not known how many received an overpayment.

The federal government administered CAIS, through offices in Winnipeg, for B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Yukon.

Elsewhere, the program was delivered by the provinces.