Mr. Chair, members of Parliament, thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
My name is Stephen Vandervalk, and I'm a fourth-generation farmer from the Fort Macleod area of southern Alberta. I've been farming my whole life. I'm past-president of the Grain Growers of Canada, and current director with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.
Most grain farmers are entrepreneurial. We were pleased when the Wheat Board was disbanded, and we were able to sell our grain competitively on the world market ourselves. We were pleased when the current government said that they wanted to increase agriculture exports by 25% by 2025. We were pleased that the trade agreements, CETA and CPTPP, have been signed.
However, when grain growers are caught as innocent political pawns in events they have no control over, they always pay the price. I currently plant 4,500 acres of canola. Since the announcement in early March by China that they were putting a stop on the importation of Canadian canola, the futures bids have dropped, costing me $50,000 on my old crop, or what I have in the bin today. Looking at the 2019 crop, I potentially could lose another $100,000, or much more if this continues.
The worst-case scenario is there will not be any bids for canola. Multiply that across 43,000 Canadian canola growers in western Canada and we face potential losses in the billions. Yes, let me repeat that: We face potential losses in the billions of dollars. That's real money out of every grain farmer's bottom line. Imagine a loss of that magnitude as it rolls out and impacts machinery and truck dealers, local suppliers, support services and all the ancillary services. The cost is enormous.
The timing of this issue and the timing of my being here could not be worse. I should be at home seeding. Thankfully, my family's able to help cover for me. The season is short, and this issue is weighing heavily on every grain farmer.
You already know that China is the largest end market for Canadian canola, accounting for approximately 40% of all Canadian canola products exported annually. In 2018, canola seed exported to China generated $2.7 billion according to the Canola Council of Canada. That Canadian canola crop contributes $26.7 billion annually to the Canadian economy.
The statement from China that they are not buying our canola because of dangerous pests is ludicrous. Canada is noted for consistently growing and exporting the best grain in the world. This is a political issue, pure and simple. Political problems need political solutions. If we must play the game of grain inspections, so be it, but in the meantime, Canadian grain farmers are the ones paying the price for the political failings.
I remind this committee that this is not the only current agricultural failing that grain farmers are facing. The list of significant trade issues for the Canadian grains industry has grown long.
Italy is no longer importing the world's best Canadian durum due to non-tariff trade barriers. Over the past few years we have usually exported one million tonnes valued at $250 million. The durum market has been decimated. We can't even sell it.
Our sixth-largest market, Peru, has stopped importing Canadian wheat, claiming we have a weed seed issue. At over one million tonnes, that's another $200 million.
Vietnam has stopped importing Canadian wheat, claiming that it has thistle seeds in it. That market was over $4 million.
India has applied massive tariffs on our pulse crops, valued at over $1 billion.
Saudi Arabia is not importing our wheat and barley valued at over $4 million, due to a diplomatic dispute.
In case you weren't adding up these numbers, that's over $4.2 billion in direct export sales annually. Using the multiplier effect of 1.5, this is a potential loss to our economy of $6.3 billion.
Grain farmers aren't looking for financial handouts. We're looking to grow our exports, our crop sales, on a level playing field. We can compete with any country in the world if we don't have one arm tied behind our backs. Unfair non-tariff trade barriers and one-sided taxes, such as the carbon tax, force Canadian grain farmers into impossible situations. We ask you not to force us into uncompetitive situations.
The combined potential loss through export losses to China, Italy, Peru, Vietnam, India and Saudi Arabia is staggering. Canada can feed the world, but not if our government does not act strongly on our behalf, removing non-tariff trade barriers, enforcing existing trade agreements and removing political roadblocks.
This week the Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced $12 million in funding to Loblaws, one of Canada's largest companies, owned by one of Canada's richest families. Frankly, it is embarrassing and a slap in the face to grain farmers when this takes place. If you truly want ingenuity and a clean economy, support agriculture. Support us not through handouts, but by getting out of the way of the modernization and growing practices that we've been developing for the past 20 years. Agriculture has been on the leading edge of environmental protections: sequestering carbon through our low-till and no-till seeding using GPS and AI, minimizing our inputs and carbon footprint, all the while maximizing grain output.
If you want to effectively maximize the benefits of Canadian agriculture, take the steps necessary to reduce and eliminate the barriers that farmers are facing today. We plan our crop rotations in a very scientific manner. Factors such as soil types, markets, history of crops on the piece of land, fertilizer and other inputs are all used to determine what crops we should plant.
We do this every year, well in advance of spring seeding. Now we are faced with a huge disruption that changes everything.
Are farmers concerned? We sure are, and rightly so. Our future depends on these outcomes. These combined issues are already becoming the largest crisis our farms have ever seen in 100 years.
Give us the assurance that you are resolving these issues, not with empty words but with actions. Show us that you mean what you say.
Thank you. We look forward to your questions.