Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for your keen interest in the plight of our Canadian farm families.
This rural distress is something I experience, and I have been for part of my life, coming from the agricultural sector myself. It prompted me to found the organization Au coeur des familles agricoles, or ACFA, 20 years ago, by integrating an innovative approach, that of the farm outreach worker.
I have followed the previous meetings closely, and I can only agree with what has been said. However, I believe that the time for research is over. It is urgent that concrete actions be taken to reduce as much as possible this distress that causes the disappearance of farms, which contributes to the devitalization of our rurality.
How did we get here?
Agriculture is first and foremost a profession that is practised out of passion, a profession that contains its share of unexpected events. Agricultural businesses must be efficient and meet many requirements. This profession necessarily requires self-sacrifice, since farm work must have priority over everything else to be profitable. All this daily work that weighs on the whole family contributes to creating certain distress at one time or another.
While farm families are highly resilient to many challenges, from bad weather, to diseases affecting the herd, to market fluctuations and to imports and exports, emotions such as uncertainty, insecurity and doubt slowly and insidiously infiltrate the system, causing deep damage over time. Indeed, it is difficult to guarantee the farm's profitability when the pillars of the economy collapse and the family's livelihood, which is sometimes also the ancestral heritage, is reduced because of guaranteed debt. The ability to manage stress may have limits, and the farmer may need help or support from a resource person who understands the realities of the rural environment.
Agricultural producers give priority to their business and activities at the expense of their health and family relationships. This is why the concept of outreach workers, who play a front-line role by answering the call, going on location and adapting their intervention based on each case, must be promoted. Farm outreach workers are first and foremost an agents of change. From a clinical point of view, the main component of their functions is the identification of farm families, their support and assistance in meeting their health and well-being needs.
It often happens that the people who need help don't ask for it themselves. Thanks to this proactive approach, it is the people in the neighbourhood, family members, friends and others who will see to it that the intervenor present in the community, in other words, the farm outreach worker, is called on.
The intervention philosophy of the farm outreach worker is based on a proactive preventive approach and a sharpened knowledge of the network specific to agricultural businesses. This allows the worker to intervene with an agricultural producer before he or she even applies for assistance. It is essential that the farm outreach worker be seen within the agricultural network and frequent it in order to gradually get to know the actors in the field, who will come to collaborate with the worker in all confidence. The ultimate goal of the farm outreach worker's support interventions is to keep farms active by influencing the well-being of farmers and their family members, who support them in their efforts.
Keeping agriculture healthy means keeping agriculture in business. The economic health of the farm contributes to the vitality of the outreach and that of its municipality. The impact of the economic health of family farming extends beyond regional and national borders.
The farm outreach worker makes sense in the strength of the network. If the outreach worker is able to detect the farmer's greatest cause of stress through the existing network, he or she will be better able to respond to the situation by suggesting appropriate solutions or resources. If, for example, the farmer's problem is debt, the farm outreach worker will explain the benefits of the federal mediation service to the farmer. Farm outreach workers will even be able to support farmers in their approach. This service is free of charge, which is not insignificant. If the problem is more of an alcohol or drug dependency, farm outreach workers will support farmers and talk to them about the resources available. For outreach workers, there are as many resources as there are problematic situations; all they need to do is know about them.
Right now, you, the members of the committee, are part of this network.
However, this network lacks some innovation in terms of resources, such as creating a position for an agriculture ombudsman for agricultural businesses. Many producers told me about their frustration with disputes that were going nowhere because the cost of legal counsel was far too high and the process was far too long. Given this lack of justice, people in the agricultural business community know full well that farmers will have no recourse. Without an agriculture ombudsman, acting as a negotiator, we will have a David and Goliath situation.
Knowledge of the farm community and the commitment of field workers to respond as quickly as possible are two key factors that give confidence to farm family members and encourage them to open up to talk about their problems. The openness of the field workers when making contact with those people is essential to overcoming mistrust. I often say that producers have three traits: they are proud, arrogant and suspicious. They are always doing business. Knowledge of farm work is essential for field workers. They work based on the farmers' work situation, taking into account the farm schedule. They therefore need to know the timing for seeding, milking, caring for animals or cutting hay, among other things.
I will conclude by inviting you to consult the documents I submitted to your analyst, so that you can get an idea of those 20 years of work.
I am offering my help in establishing the field workers all across Canada, and I do so on a voluntary basis. In my opinion, money is not important when you want to save lives.