Evidence of meeting #12 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was organic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Richard Robert  Chair, Canadian Farm Business Management Council
  • Heather Watson  General Manager, Canadian Farm Business Management Council
  • Ted Zettel  General Manager, Organic Meadow Co-operative
  • Bob Seguin  Excutive Director, George Morris Centre
  • Johanne Van Rossum  President, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec
  • Mathieu Pelletier  Management Agronomist, Réseau d'expertise en gestion agricole, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

I have a quick question for Mr. Seguin.

You talked about a changing global market. You have a few graphs showing that the agricultural market is growing but that Canada's share of exports keeps going down. What are the main reasons for this trend?

5 p.m.

Excutive Director, George Morris Centre

Bob Seguin

Unfortunately, it's the competition--Brazil, the United States, and other countries--doing as well or better in the marketplace. It's also partially the value of the dollar, as well as the ability to have enough supply in the marketplace at a time when we want it. For some commodities we're doing exceptionally well, and for a couple of others we're not doing as well. For some of the processed foods, sadly, we're not as aggressive as we have been in the past.

There are probably some corporate decisions about how companies are allocating resources, but we should be looking at our competitors as the primary reason we've slipped just a few notches down.

5 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Malcolm Allen

Thank you very much, Mr. Rousseau. Your time is up.

Mr. Preston.

November 17th, 2011 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

It's great to be here today. We've learned some good things here today.

One of the pieces I've just heard from the federation is, I think you said, that 15% of farms have a business plan, and in your document you said that 20% have one. Either way, as a businessman myself, I certainly know that if my sector were down at that level I could be a lot more successful. If my competitors were planning that little, I'd be a lot better off. How do we fix that?

Mr. Seguin, you mentioned measurement, and I'll get to you with a second question on that if I have time.

Obviously, if we're not working from a business plan or even trying to follow one and actually measuring our results or failures against it, how do we get people there? How do we make that better?

I ask this because we can get out of the way if someone else is measuring and being successful.

5 p.m.

General Manager, Canadian Farm Business Management Council

Heather Watson

I hope you don't mind if I answer.

I'm seeing a huge discrepancy in the definition of business management, and I think it is taken for granted. I think it's assumed that business management is the everyday practice, the common sense, and it's not taken as something that you need to work at and continue to work at. And whether it's 15% or 20%, the numbers are consistently low, for sure, and the Agricultural Management Institute just confirmed those numbers in Ontario as well.

I think it's in the messaging. I think we can simplify that messaging to make it more meaningful. If we're saying that you need this business plan, and it's going to take you five years to get to the end of it and then it's just a piece of paper, that's not the right message and it's not very sexy or appealing to the farmers. But if we say, “Do you have vision? Do you have goals? Do you want your family farm to be around for the next five or ten years?”, I think those are the messages we need to be communicating.

It really is the messaging and the communication that we need to work at.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

But in the last bunch of years, certainly through any recessionary times, every business has had to look very hard at itself and inside itself. Am I spending this? Am I overspending on this product? Am I under-spending on this product? Is this supplier charging me too much?

How is it that farm businesses have not reached that, or certainly not to the same degree? You even said, “Well, 20% have a written business plan, and 71% have used that simply to secure financing”, or that that the reason for their business plan is that they can actually take it to a bank, or take it to someone and do it. I mean, the real answer is measuring results.

I'm going to pop over to Mr. Seguin, because you mentioned the other side of this same scenario. Where the federal government is spending money, you're suggesting that we lack measurement of the results of the money we're spending. Is that true? If so, how do we improve?

5:05 p.m.

Excutive Director, George Morris Centre

Bob Seguin

This has been a problem for decades. Part of my life was doing federal-provincial programming in income support, and we never asked some of those questions. How did this really change that farm family or that farm sector? How did this really affect the food processing sector? Did we get a better product? Does this really make the farm community more sustainable, financially or environmentally?

We never asked to see results, or what happened.

The challenge here for the federal and provincial governments of Canada is to ask some of these questions and to work with the farm community. Some of them may not want to have the questions asked, but work it through.

I think you'll find there are a sizeable number of farmers who do the right things—as my colleagues have asked about. But a larger number—for a number of good reasons, both personal and lifestyle—have other sources of income and don't place the same attention on it.

The Government of Canada and the provincial governments—with the limited resources they have from the taxpayers—need to find out how best to allocate them and where it will really work.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

The industry isn't measuring itself. If the individual business people involved in your industry aren't measuring themselves, how will we ever get those answers back regardless? That's maybe a rhetorical question.

But if we asked the questions you just asked, 80% of the people would not know the answer. They're not measuring it in their own businesses.

It really does come back, from a business management point of view, to suggest that the success is there, but the measurement needs to be done. There has to be a measurement, or we can't tell.

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Canadian Farm Business Management Council

Heather Watson

That's just it, it's figuring out what that measurement is. For a lot of farmers, it's the bottom line. It's the profitability. I'm speaking very generally and I apologize, but it's what do you attribute your profitability to?

If that's your measure, if all you care about is profitability, what do you attribute it to, and if you don't know your cost of production then—

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

If that's your only measure, it's a really scary day at the bank—

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Canadian Farm Business Management Council

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

—when all of a sudden you discover you missed that measurement.

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Canadian Farm Business Management Council

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Because if all you're measuring is the profit.... You must measure other things along the way. That's true with all that we're saying here.

But more than one group today and,

Mr. Zettel, you said that the increased costs of setting up and moving forward with organic farms required a little bit more business management perhaps than regular agriculture, and I'm certain that from the organic side you must have members in your groups too that just, if you will, fly by the seat of their pants rather than run through management.

5:05 p.m.

General Manager, Organic Meadow Co-operative

Ted Zettel

I have maybe one comment on that. We have to recognize that farming is not just the same as any other business. It is also a lifestyle choice, and people enter into it for reasons other than just a return on the investment.

You're not going to change that overnight, as it's just part of the culture of farming. But in the organic sector, I think we're in exactly the same predicament as many, many operations that don't really have a handle on their business.