Evidence of meeting #19 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 programs.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Well, Mr. Schneckenburger was on there a few minutes ago.

Oh, Mr. Dhaliwal's chair is empty. Maybe he thought it was over.

Anyway, we'll move to Mr. Allen for five minutes.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to everyone. Mr. Dhaliwal might come back; I don't know, but we'll see what happens.

Mr. Schneckenburger, I was interested in your comments about farms, in Ontario, at least, that are somewhat more diversified than others in other regions of the country, where they may be into mono-agriculture or one particular thing. You started to talk about where you have cut lines, in the sense that if you do X, it should stand alone inside of the whole, and you started to talk about where you saw that line being.

I'd like to explore that more in the sense of how you see it unravelling. At first blush, one says it seems reasonable, but the next thought I had was, “Well, here comes the paperwork.” So how do you pull the piece out to make it a stand-alone piece that works inside a BRM suite of programs versus being an integral part of your entire farm operation?

Mr. Gowland, I'd like you to answer the same question, if you will, because somehow I think you might have a different perspective.

May I start first with Mr. Schneckenburger?

3:55 p.m.

Farmer, As an Individual

Arden Schneckenburger

I've been thinking about this for a number of years. That's why I picked fairly high numbers, like $250,000 to $400,000. I was thinking it would have to be an entity that would stand as a full-time farming operation on its own—be it a feedlot, cash crop, horticulture business, or farmers who are in both beef and pork—so costs can be allocated to different things.

Most farms now are getting fairly sophisticated computer programs for doing bookkeeping. It's relatively easy for us to cost enterprises, and we do that so we can do our own cost of production calculations.

My opinion is that it should be explored, for farms that have that sophistication, etc.

3:55 p.m.

Owner-Operator, Farm Business, As an Individual

Jim Gowland

From a grains and oilseeds perspective, that's all we do. I can empathize with Mr. Schneckenburger on a multi-entity type of situation. I would concur that our bookkeeping and our way of being able to count stuff in larger operations are basically not a big deal. Even within crops specific to our grains operation, we keep a pretty good handle on what the production is, what kind of pricing we've got, what our marketing was on that type of stuff, and what kinds of dollars have been brought in with those programs—and we assess the expenses to those too.

It depends on how technical you want to get, but you can split it down to whatever you want if you are dedicated to that purpose. So I think that yes, it can be done.

Basically, with an AgriStability program in our operation, we keep paying our premiums every year to it. The good news is that we've been fairly profitable and successful over the years. But we've had a couple of years where we ask if we can move some numbers around because that's still something that can be done, and you still don't even come close to it. So as far as AgriStability goes in a grains and oilseeds operation, yes, certainly we've been building reference margins up over the last number of years because of increased revenues out of crops. But again, I'm not going to depend on that program to look at cyclical downturns for us; I won't depend on it.

4 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

I don't think confidence in your operations was the question; it was really more the red tape, or at least the paperwork, that I envisioned.

Last week, the folks who were here really talked about the paperwork that needs to be returned to the government or the bureaucracy in order to engage in the programs. As for your own individual farm operations, I have no illusions that you're more than capable, very competent, and know what you're doing down to the last dot of the “i” and cross of the “t” here, there, and everywhere else.

We actually had someone here who runs a consulting business where folks go to do their paperwork to get into the programs. When you break it out, and start to see that it's not just one application for your one entity—I don't know how many entities you really have, Mr. Schneckenburger, but it sounds like there's at least two or three inside your one farm, and some might have four or five—would that present a problem?

4 p.m.

Farmer, As an Individual

Arden Schneckenburger

Again, I'm going to argue that the bigger the business, the more sophisticated the accounting packages. I don't think it's any more of a burden than it is for a part-time farmer who's spending $1,000 on an accountant to have the accountant do it. I think on a larger farm we spend our money on the computer programs and we tend to do it ourselves.

4 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

To be honest, that's good news to hear, because I think the Ontario experience is that there's a diversification.

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair, I don't want to go beyond my time, because—

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

I'm going to let you finish your comment, but you know that we—

4 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

We're short today, I know. We're going to have votes.

But I appreciate the comment about the ability to do that. I think it's important to know that it is there, because ultimately in Ontario it is diversified farms.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you, Mr. Allen.

Mr. Preston for five minutes.

December 13th, 2011 / 4 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and with the limited time I'll get right at it.

Mr. Allen was just talking about the amount of paperwork needed to use some of the programs that are already out there. Each of you, during your presentation, including Mr. Dhaliwal, mentioned some changes or some thought changes. Hopefully, as you were thinking of those changes, you were thinking about whether they would cause more paperwork or less, and we'll go from there.

One of the other things we were looking at in one of the last meetings I was at of this committee was business plans for farming. Mr. Gowland, you mentioned a lot in your presentation about how you've planned to move forward. Even in one of your answers to Mr. Allen, you mentioned about planning and looking at whether AgriStability would work for you, how you would make it work, and that type of thing. I commend you on having that type of business plan for your farm.

We heard that day that 20% of people farming today have a business plan. Most of those put it together simply to be able to get financing, and they're not following a plan the other way. So I thank you for doing that. I think each of you in your conversations with us talked about that. We've hit on some of the 20 percenters here, so let's look at it from that point of view.

Mr. Gowland, you talked about your business and how it works. But you told us a bit about some changes you might like to look at from an AgriStability point of view, and you mentioned transparency being a problem. Is that transparency in how you report or transparency back from Agriculture Canada or...?

4 p.m.

Owner-Operator, Farm Business, As an Individual

Jim Gowland

Again, you can maybe look at it that we're contradicting our statements here a little bit, but to try to sort it out here, there is the fact that I think we have good information from our operations. As Mr. Schneckenburger talked about, the whole situation of being able to take a multi-component farm operation, split it apart, and have those numbers—and we do have those numbers.

I think where we end up having a problem is with the AgriStability, the application, and basically, whether we are even eligible for this thing. The fact is the frustration level....again, the timeliness of need, in a lot of cases, comes into that. But it's a situation where you don't know for a long time. It's very past tense on when you get that information of whether you qualify or not. Certainly, the word “bankable” comes out, the word “predictable” comes out, and I think there's a big lack of that happening in an AgriStability type of program.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

So you're trying to find somewhere half-way through, so you can see whether you are going to be eligible or you're not going to eligible, that type of thing?

4:05 p.m.

Owner-Operator, Farm Business, As an Individual

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Both you and Mr. Schneckenburger mentioned AgriInvest, and you talked about increasing AgriInvest from 1.5% to 2% and upping the piece on it. What would that look like in your business if that happened? You're asking for that to happen. What difference will it make to your business?