Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be here today. I want to thank you very much for the opportunity.
I'd like also to acknowledge my colleagues at the table. It was wonderful to hear France talk about the organic industry, because I have chosen to be an organic farmer. I am certified organic under the Organic Crop Producers and Processors. Being certified has been a strategic decision for us as farmers; it makes us in fact more competitive and more profitable.
I have similar concerns to those expressed by France about the change in the certification standards and how they will be lowered. The standards I must adhere to as an organic farmer are extremely high, much higher than those now adhered to by farmers in other countries. We are importing from those countries, so it is a real concern.
That being said, I'd like to also draw your attention to a brief that we have prepared for you. It has been translated, so you have it, and we will be referring to it throughout the morning.
I want to talk a little bit about what has been going on in agriculture. I've been farming for over 27 years. My father is a Cape Breton Islander. His family were farming and fishing folk in Cape Breton Island and had a beautiful farm there on the Bras d'Or Lakes. My father still has 400 acres on the Bras d'Or Lakes. But we see what competition did to the cod industry and what that did to my father's family.
Later on, after graduating from the University of Guelph, I farmed in Australia. My husband is an Australian, and we were grain and cattle farmers there. We were very competitive in Australia. When another country had a natural disaster, we got the competitive edge, because there was a world shortage in grain. The only time we ever got a higher price in the 15 years that I farmed in Australia was when another country had a natural disaster; then there was a shortage on the international grain market, and we could see grain prices go up. The friends I've left behind in Australia are also struggling in this global market of competitive agriculture.
Now I farm one hour south of Ottawa, just a little bit further south than Dwight Foster. I am a soybean grower. We also have cattle and we grow horticultural crops.
What we have been witnessing in agriculture for the past three decades, and more so over the past decade, is cartels and takeovers that are emerging in world agriculture. According to the Competition Bureau, and I am sure you are all familiar with this: “...when a dominant company exploits its market power in a way that hurts competition in the marketplace the Competition Act may come into play”. I just wonder, will the Competition Act come into play at any time to examine what these mergers mean for food producers in this country?
Under the Competition Act, mergers of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy are subject to review by the Commissioner of Competition to determine whether they will likely result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition. With only a handful of dominant players in the agricultural marketplace—i.e., in slaughter facilities; fertilizer, seed, and chemical suppliers; equipment dealers; and grain buyers—farmers are not able to be competitive or in fact profitable. Hence comes the need for the AgriFlex program.
Helping farmers put—as Mr. Ritz has recently said—more “black ink on the bottom line” cannot be done until we examine and address the pitfalls that have been created by allowing corporate gouging to continue unabated from season to season. Encouraging competition between farmers and citizens destroys communities.
I look at the topic for today. As a farmer, the idea of being competitive is something that's not part of my psyche or my ideology as a citizen of the world.
With farmers making up less than 2% of the population in Canada today, surely we do not need to compete for food dollars; we just need to be able to hold on to more of them. There is enough for everyone. It needs to be spread more evenly among those of us who actually grow the food. I know that's a hard job, but it's something we need to start thinking about more strategically.
The fascination and preoccupation with innovation in agriculture may create opportunities to farm more easily as we hold down off-farm jobs. But where is it guaranteed that this innovation in agriculture will put more black ink on the bottom line for anyone other than retailers, input suppliers, and commodity traders?
Society wants farmers to grow what society wants to eat, and that's why I've been a successful farmer: I grow what people want to eat. Society needs farmers to grow safe, healthy, tasty food that is closer to home.
I'd like to refer to a report that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. It was sponsored by the United Nations FAO. It calls for a radical shift away from industrial competitive agriculture towards more sustainable place-based agriculture. The report goes on to state: “...the old paradigm of industrial, energy-intensive and toxic agriculture is a concept of the past”.
The impact of competition has cost farmers. Farmers are more efficient than ever before. We have to be, with over 85% of farmers in Canada forced to hold off-farm jobs while running large and usually management-intensive, high-capital-input operations. I know there are many members of Parliament who call themselves farmers but who have pretty nice off-farm jobs. This is the reality, regardless of increased market access due to trade deals, which we continue to pursue.
Meanwhile, rural communities have lost valuable support infrastructure that would allow us to process foods closer to home. This loss of infrastructure is something that's a real concern and something we really need to look at. Last summer, Ontario lost its last canning plant in the Niagara escarpment, and it was okay to watch it shut down. I have friends who are farming in the Niagara escarpment, and there's no longer anywhere for them to get their peaches and nectarines processed. Meanwhile, we're bringing them in from California or South Africa or China. Local processing would really help for value-added purposes and to extend our market, therefore making us more competitive—enabled, in the sense that we are able to grow more “Grown and processed in Canada” food, giving consumers more “Grown and processed in Canada” food choices.
Unnecessary regulations have been applied to small-scale food processing facilities, rendering us unable to compete with corporate giants; pushing small-scale abattoirs, for example, into bankruptcy as they scramble to keep up with the regulatory treadmill. Our reluctance to label foods appropriately, so that consumers can make informed choices to purchase food truly grown in Canada, has stymied farmers' abilities to capture the increasing market demand for food grown, not simply processed and repackaged, here.
Our government needs to stop adding to the competitive deficit and block all non-essential mergers and takeovers by corporations that serve the interests of the shareholders and not the public, corporations that Agriculture Canada and the CFIA appear to be protecting.
I'd like to note what has happened very recently, in the past two weeks: the recent actions by Canada's representatives at a meeting of the governing body of the International Treaty on Plant and Genetic Resources. The Canadian delegates held up a resolution under negotiation to reaffirm farmers' rights to save, use, exchange, and sell their own seeds. Canada's action on the international stage, which blocked consensus allowing farmers' rights to seeds, is an example of how far we have come as a society from understanding the basic tenets of civilized societies. The use and sharing of seeds is not simply a right, but a fundamental requirement, and yet we continue to commodify and manipulate seeds and foods so that we can accelerate the innovation needed to bring more products to market in less time. As a farmer, I ask why are we doing this; what products; for whom; to what purpose?
If Agriculture Canada is indeed concerned with the future trends in consumer demands, I suggest that we need to get more in touch with what's going on at the present. Consumers are asking farmers such as me to grow food that is safe, ethical, environmentally responsible, and that just plain tastes good. Many farmers are doing just that. In doing so, we are actually rebuilding a local sustainable food system that has been destroyed through an overzealous focus on competition and competitiveness. We need to continue to ask who is paying and who will profit.
As I said, I've been farming for 27 years, and we are showing substantial increased growth of sales on our farm, and not only sales growth, but we're actually keeping more of the money on the farm. Regardless of how competitive we are, we need to start growing food in this country that Canadians want to eat and that our trading partners are interested in purchasing from us.
I want to thank you for this opportunity.