Grain farmers ask for better insurance plan against mould infestation

Ontario corn farmers are taking a hit with their crops being infested with vomitoxin, which appears as a pink mould. The province extended some help last year, but farmers say it hasn't been enough.

‘Up to $200 million shortfall of income’ across Ontario, says chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario

Ontario Grain Farmers held a meeting in Woodslee, Ont. to discuss compensation for economic loss due to a mould infestation in corn. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Grain Farmers of Ontario estimate a $200-million shortfall due to vomitoxin infestation of corn across the province.

Called deoxynivalenol (DON), the substance looks pink and has been affecting farmers lately much more than previous years.

"It's not just a few acres, it's millions of acres," said Markus Haerle, chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario. He has been travelling across the province to meet with farmers affected by the infestation.

He's hoping farmers will write to their MPPs, sharing their experiences of personal economic loss, to push for the government to step up. 

Bushels discounted or rejected

If a bushel is infected, farmers are hit with a discount when the bushels arrive at the grain elevators. And if the levels exceed a certain amount (eight parts per million), the bushel will be rejected, because animal feed made from that grain could have harmful effects on pigs.

"For myself, it's about 85 per cent of my corn was affected with high DON, high discounts," said Maurice Chauvin, a corn farmer in Stoney Point.

Maurice Chauvin, a corn farmer in Stoney Point, says 85 per cent of his corn is affected. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

In November 2018, the province announced it would open an application process to help cover eligible farmers' expenses for DON level testing.

The support is in partnership with the federal government through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

However, Haerle said that doesn't cover the immediate shortfalls farmers are facing.

"It still doesn't reflect the cost of lost revenue on the deduction side that the farmer has per bushel," he said.

Better insurance program

Currently farmers are able to apply to Agricorp for claims, a Government of Ontario agency which helps producers manage agricultural risks. 

The pink substance on this corn is suspected to be vomitoxin. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

However, Haerle said there aren't any programs to help cover a shortfall similar to the one farmers are experiencing this year.

Chauvin agrees. He said the existing programs "simply don't work, they don't release any compensation because they're so underfunded."

Corn and grain farmer Kevin Girard would also like to see a more "predictable" insurance program, "something bankable," he said.

He estimates a loss of thousands of dollars this year with 25 per cent of his crop affected.

"A lot of money goes into growing a crop, so it's very difficult not knowing where to get that money back out, or if we're going to make money at the end of the day," said Girard.

"It's a hard pill to swallow."

With files from Dale Molnar