Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As somebody who doesn't normally sit on this committee, I thank you for the opportunity to be here. I'd like to thank all our guests, as well, for being here.
Before I start, I want to recognize Mr. Guest and the good work that they do. Thank you very much. I used to sit on CFA, and when I did, I was involved quite heavily with CASA, so I recognize the importance of that to the agricultural community.
I'd also like to touch quickly on what Mr. Dreeshen said, and I agree with what he was saying around the stressors of being an agricultural producer and not necessarily having the opportunity to feel as though the things that are the most important to you, your family and the people who work for you in your organization, are what's represented in the media. You feel as though you're somehow the villain in a plot as opposed to the good guy who's trying to do the right thing for Canadian families who don't necessarily recognize or appreciate the work that you do on their behalf.
I was an agricultural producer for most of my life. I grew up on a seed potato farm and later I farmed on a large scale in seed, table and processed potatoes as well as eggs. I sold out in 2011, and then I sold my egg farm in 2017.
I want to identify a few things before I go to questions. Hopefully I'll have time to go to questions. As a farmer who had farmed starting at a young age and raised a family on the farm and who has exited the farm, I would like to identify a few things that I feel.
The conditions I dealt with as a farmer before I exited agriculture were financial uncertainty, weather, market variability, and guilt about my work-life balance with my family and my children. The work-life balance piece was never brought up by my wife or my kids, but it was something that I always felt I was negligent in, but it was really beyond my control. It was beyond my ability to change that circumstance given the financial constraints of the operation that I was running and the demands that it put on my time and on the people who were helping me to run that operation.
When I decided to sell out in 2011, or the winter of 2010, it was because I had some health concerns. I can't take the dust anymore. I can't be around dust, so it was more of a forced exit than it was an exit that I had complete control over. I decided to sell out through a large auction company, which was an amazing experience. It was a good way to do it, and it was a way that left me a clean break to start over at the age of 29.
Post-exit, I had a lot of different feelings. You would think that you would feel as though you had exited the industry, that it was a new start and it was cut and dried and simple, but it's not. I was left feeling as though the rest of the world was passing me by and had moved on.
I remember the day after the auction, once all the equipment was gone, just standing there in the middle of the yard wondering if I had made the right decision, if it was the right decision for my family, if it was the right decision for me, and what I was going to do next. It led me to a period in my life that was very difficult, in which I struggled with severe depression, which put additional stresses on my marriage and on my relationships with my children, my family, and the people who had worked for me originally. It took me probably two years of hard work, counselling and working to try to overcome that circumstance, to get through it.
Even today, there are certain times of the year when I really struggle with whether or not I made the right decision, and it's been a substantial amount of time since that happened. I truly believe that I'll always feel that way. It was the career that I wanted for my entire life, so to have that taken away or to feel as though I needed to have that taken away.... Having had conversations with other farmers who were in similar situations or who had to exit for financial reasons or for health reasons related to stress, I think it's one of the biggest challenges that's going to plague the industry going forward.
I don't think it's based on size. It's not based on size. I see farmers who have small, family-owned farms that milk 25 cows, who deal with the mental challenges around agriculture. I see large operators who farm 10,000 to 15,000 acres who suffer with the exact same challenges. I don't think it's something that's unique or relevant to the size and scope of an agricultural producer's operation. It's something that's related to the specific task that they're doing. I would say more than anything it's the desire on behalf of the farmer to feel like his contributions to society in this country are, one, acknowledged, and, two, found to be important and substantive to everyday Canadians.
I don't know very many farmers who wake up and say I don't really care whether Canadians think I'm a good person or not. Every farmer I know wants to do the right thing for the environment. They want to do the right thing for the people who they produce their food for, and then they're very proud of what they do. A lot of times—Mr. Dreeshen is right—it's a very closed-off group. Because you spend so much time working in your operation alone and not around other people, you really struggle to find those supports and controls, especially when you're in the situation at that time.
So quickly, if there's any time left at all, I would invite you—