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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

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Thank you.

I'll move to Mr. Lemieux for five minutes.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Thanks very much, Chair.

These have been excellent presentations. I find this fascinating. There were a couple of really good comments made, one of them being that I think we all want to see farmers succeed with their farms founded on sound business principles. I think there's a real desire for that, but I also think we're in an environment where—and I think Mr. Seguin made the point—we're not able to add funding or to see any kind of significant funding to programs that already exist. It's going to be a reallocation of funding. There are trade-offs that have to be considered.

From the Saint Andrews meeting, certainly the opening move is a willingness to negotiate. I think that's what was basically expressed, with some goals about where negotiation should take place. Of course, the next steps will be the provinces and the federal government actually negotiating, working out, and examining these trade-offs.

When it comes to business development, one of the questions I have is—and perhaps I'll ask this question of Heather or Richard—in terms of the take-up on training. You're offering services and I'm wondering if you have any kind of measurement system that allows you to assess, first of all, what kind of take-up you get when farmers participate in a training program or initiative. More importantly, what percentage actually implement what they've learned or seen on the course? And finally, what is also very important is, what's the impact? Is there any way to say, "I went to that course, I heard 50 good ideas, I implemented 30, and I'm 15% stronger than I was before I went on that course." Do you look at that at all? I think it's an important parameter.

The government likes to know when it's investing money that it's actually yielding certain outcomes. Do you look at that at all?

4:15 p.m.

General Manager, Canadian Farm Business Management Council

Heather Watson

We look at it to the extent we can, because a lot of the data coming back is anecdotal. We know that a farmer participating in a given course or a series of courses was inspired to go back to school, for instance. Figuring out what that means for them, and what that means for the community around them, is difficult to measure.

We actually have a project under way right now where we're looking at establishing a longitudinal study on the impact of farm business management on farmers and the economy, in terms of profitability, but also success as defined by happiness, work-life balance, human resource management, and things like that.

Right now we don't have a definite number saying that you're going to be 3% more profitable next year because you attended this course or because you read this book. There are claims for numbers like that. I know we heard David Cole speak last week and he said, "If you have a written business plan, you're 25% more profitable,” end of story. But we don't have that information available in Canada.

I think that's why part of my presentation focused so much on having comparable performance measures across the country, because we're seeing a whole lot of consultations and a whole lot of assessments, but there's no comparability because all of the questions are different and being asked for different purposes. We'd really like to concentrate on getting some consistency and some consensus around what it is we want to find out, and what measures we can agree on for that. We'd love to see that move forward.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I think it's an easy question to ask, but it's very difficult to implement. I think there is value in implementing it, because I think farmers want to see it themselves.

I would like to ask the same question to the people with the federation.

You are working with the consultants who are working directly with the farmers on the farm. Do you have any more concrete results as a consequence of their work?

4:15 p.m.

Management Agronomist, Réseau d'expertise en gestion agricole, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec

Mathieu Pelletier

We love agricultural management, among other things, because it allows us to follow businesses from year to year and then compare the current year with past years. We evaluate their projects. For example, we could evaluate the production costs of a business by finding that, this year, the percentage of its costs represented 83%, that it carried out its investment project, that it decreased its costs, which now represent 75% and that the project is doing well, that it has a revenue surplus at such and such an item, and a reduction in its costs at such and such other item. It's one of the things that we do and that we want to continue to do in the future by continuing to follow-up on the businesses.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Are there costs for the services of your consultants?

4:15 p.m.

President, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

There are costs, even if you are a cooperative.

Do the farmers seek out your services, or do you solicit the farmers? Perhaps both are true, but what is more common?

4:15 p.m.

President, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec

Johanne Van Rossum

I would say that we solicit the producers. Actually, there are two things. For two years, the producers whose businesses are in difficulty seek us out more. It has become a requirement for businesses in difficulty to use management services.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

It's a requirement of the government or—

4:15 p.m.

President, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

—of the system [Inaudible—Editor].

4:15 p.m.

President, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec

Johanne Van Rossum

Exactly. Those adaptation strategies suggested by the provincial government have only been in place since 2010 or 2011; so they are new. But we are also working with producers in the long term. It is important to meet with producers on a regular basis. By visiting farms regularly, we can foster a management culture. In the past, there were a number of programs that were offering one visit only, a one-shot deal. They would take a picture, make an assessment and then leave them to sort things out for themselves. Now we work differently. We don't just take a picture. We provide follow-up, assistance, and so on.

Your question about whether we have compared the financial results of producers dealing with the group to those of medium-sized farms is interesting. I don't know.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Pierre, I know you're on a breakaway, but....

4:20 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Anyway, that was a very good answer.

We'll now move to Mr. Eyking for five minutes.

Welcome back.

November 17th, 2011 / 4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Chair. It's always a pleasure. I see you guys are progressing as usual.

I guess with the killing of the Wheat Board and supply management being on the table and getting axed, I started looking at the crystal ball of the future of agriculture. It's inevitable that these small farms are not going to have their marketing clout, and they're going to wither.

We saw it when we visited out west. We saw the orchard growers in the Okanagan. They're just going out of business. I think if these two marketing agencies are gone, you're going to see small farmers and probably dairy farmers in Quebec or grain farmers going out of business.

It's been mentioned that we can be more efficient and have larger-scale operations and that we'll be all right. That concerns me, because who are we going to be competing with? There's nothing like competition if it's fair competition. Are you going to be competing with Brazil where they can have two crops of soybeans? Are you going to be competing with New Zealand for cheese when they don't have to house their animals or cut the forage? Then you also have the U.S. and the European treasury, when we know that there is a near-one-dollar subsidy for every bushel of grain in the U.S. along with all the subsidies in Europe.

We see this. We're going to be more efficient. We're going to be larger. But at the end of the day, are we going to produce more? Are farmers going to make a better living? Are more young people going to say they want to get into that industry since it's so much better now than it was when the other things were in place?

I guess my question is whether we are going to be able to compete. Is it going to be a better environment? Are we going to have young people beating down the doors to be farmers because there's going to be more money? Or are we going to have mega-farms that are going to be beholden to agribusiness and maybe retailers, and be making less money because they will be competing with these areas that have better production and better subsidies?

My question will be first for Bob from the George Morris Centre. Give us a little snapshot of what it will be like when this thing starts going the other way.

4:20 p.m.

Excutive Director, George Morris Centre

Bob Seguin

I'll start by saying that I don't agree with the supposition that the demise of the mandatory Wheat Board will be the end of grain production. It will mean changes, and not everybody will be happy, but what the western Canadian farmers have done with canola and pulses is an example of what the possibilities are. It isn't smooth, but it's there.

On the dairy and poultry and egg supply management, despite the media attention, there are strong expressions of support for the sector by all governments in Canada. Also, we would never interfere with the U.S. farm policy inside the United States and we would probably not anticipate that from any other country inside our country. The challenge is how we handle the trade aspects of it. That won't be very easy either.

But I'll take your point.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

I want to lean the question a bit, because I have only one shot at this. What if we negotiate the dairy industry and the New Zealanders are really pushing us? What if this happens?

4:20 p.m.

Excutive Director, George Morris Centre

Bob Seguin

First, let's look at the small number of farmers in this country who are producing most of the food. It's a fragile number and they're not producing it on a whim and a whistle and a theme of just wanting to go out in the morning and do a few things. They have to produce it using resources, financial resources on a large scale. They have to manage large amounts of farm machinery, and now manage people who are going to run that farm, because they're too busy managing the farm. They require lots of skill sets, and to do that they need capital, opportunities, and financial resources. That is the situation today. It's not as if it's something brand new.

The other thing in the case of the United States, New Zealand, and others is whether they have the capacity to make the products come into Canada. We do not see the New Zealand dairy industry as being all hot and bothered about moving into Canada to take over our entire markets, since they have great opportunities elsewhere and have constraints on their capacity. Americans have constraints on their capacity, as we do. There is only so much room to move.

We don't see this as the end of the small farmers. We see this as a reshuffling. A number of farmers will, as they have done since the post-war era, go out of business. But some of the policies actually encourage the use of land and resources in some enterprises that are no longer as viable.

My colleague beside me is an excellent example of a smaller operation growing up to be a reasonable size, and of being cooperative and different. The Government of Canada and the provinces allow for this. So how do we best encourage this? I have colleagues on both ends of the table. It's their programming and their efforts, and they're working primarily with farmers. But how do others work best in this marketplace, given that there are a certain number of safety nets and other activities, to be competitive locally and globally?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Thank you, Mr. Seguin.

Mr. Eyking, you're out of time.

Mr. Zimmer, go ahead for five minutes.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Thank you.

I'd also like to correct what Mr. Eyking said. We're not actually eliminating the Wheat Board, as he mentioned. We're giving farmers freedom and the CWB freedom to operate in an open market. I say that just for clarity.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

On a point of order, how are you going to have the Wheat Board if you take the money away--

4:25 p.m.

An hon. member

That's not a point of order.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Play by the rules, Mr. Eyking. Come on.