We're very happy to be here, as usual, but it's an important time for the committee to get involved.
We are very pleased to appear before you today.
As I mentioned, the timing is quite opportune because we're about halfway through the current agricultural policy framework and in a couple of months, ministers will be meeting, in July, to discuss the next policy framework, and within a year, we should have a significant milestone in the form of a multilateral agreement with all ministers. The department is welcoming the committee's interest in this exercise.
The policy framework says our set of agreements among governments that help us align policy and programming in agriculture—because we share a constitutional jurisdiction, which I'll get into a bit later in the discussion—but the frameworks provide us a valuable opportunity to maximize government interventions on behalf of the sector. Getting ready for the future is quite critical, so the committee's work will be very welcomed.
I want to spend a couple minutes, if you will, setting the context about why the sector is so important to the country.
The agriculture and agri-food sector is incredibly diverse. It is also a powerful driver of the Canadian economy. The sector generates over $100 billion—or close to seven per cent of Canada's GDP—and one in eight jobs. The sector has evolved to become highly sophisticated and efficient, while achieving great advancements in crop varieties and yields.
Thanks to investments in productivity growth, Canadian farmers today can produce twice as much output compared to 1961, with the same level of input. For instance, from 2005 to 2012, Canada's national dairy herd declined by 11 per cent, while total milk production increased by 6 per cent. Better feeding, disease control and genetic advancements have increased the amount of milk produced per cow. Despite international and year-to-year variability, yields for corn, canola, wheat and soybeans have trended upward over the past four decades - all due to better crop varieties and production practices.
Underpinning these advancements over a lengthy period of time has been a very strong reliance on research and development and science, a large proportion of which has been conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Collaboration with our partners in federal, provincial, and academia has been quite critical in producing some breakthroughs over the period of the last 50 or more years. Research begun in the 1980s, for example, has led to a 90% reduction in summer fallow, which means 10.3 million hectares of extra land brought into production as a result of certain techniques. Summer fallow, as some of you will know, is leaving acreage not planted so that you can replace nutrients, replace nitrogen, rejuvenate the soil, and control pests.
By bringing that acreage into production, you're providing producers with literally millions and millions of hectares of possible production. That was done by collaborative research among governments and academia into reduced tillage techniques, introducing different fertilizer and different pest control applications that keep the soil healthy. It retains moisture and allows the production of extra crops.
By the way, it also acts as a carbon sink. Zero till and techniques that support zero tillage or low tillage strategies have been a major method in the agricultural world to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
One small example of the advantage that a reduction in summer fallow has brought is the increase in pulse production in Canada, from 193,000 hectares in 1981 to 2.2 million hectares in 2011. You may know that Canada is one of the world's largest, if not the largest, exporters now of pulse crops. Research and development are critically important.
I think you will know also as a committee that Canada is one of the few countries that is a net exporter of food. The country has a certain obligation to ensure the most productive practices possible. In 2015 Canada exported over $60 billion of agriculture and agrifood products, so there's an exceptionally important role for the country to play in feeding the world, a role that will only become more important over the period of the next framework.
I should say also that farmers have been doing very well in the last several years. Farm cash incomes reached a record high of $15 billion in 2015. The average net worth of a farm is forecast to grow to $2.7 million—that's assets after debts—in 2016. The prospects for the future look very bright.
From our perspective, as we prepare for the next framework, we're looking at an opportunity of very significant population growth in the developing world combined with income growth and urbanization, with all three trends equalling changes in diet and changes in capacity to purchase western-style foods, including foods from Canada. We see a significant demand increase in that region of the world. In fact, if you drew a circle on the map that encompassed a portion of China and a portion of India and southeast Asia down to around Indonesia, you would have more people than in the rest of the world combined. There's a very significant export opportunity and a very significant obligation for the country to ensure that people have access to nutritious foods.
That said, there's a lot of risk in the world. There's a lot of risk built into farming. Weather, pests, and markets all present farmers with risks they have to manage. We do see forthcoming increased volatility in weather patterns, which create an enormous challenge for farmers. One point I want to make for the committee is the importance of research and development in helping the sector maintain a resilience in the face of that kind of volatility. Some of you will remember that we had a very difficult growing year in 2014-15. The season started off extremely dry. There was a large number of concerns about yield and productivity and returns to farmers over the course of that very challenging growing season. Despite all those challenges, the western crop was the second-largest crop on record—science, research, and development proving that we can improve products and improve practices to build resilience into the sector.
Another challenge for Canada going forward as we start to build the new agricultural framework is the preferences of diets, both here in Canada and abroad. Consumer tastes are changing. The growth of pulse crops is a good example of that. The acceptance in the developing world of canola oil is another example of consumer-driven opportunity that we have to ensure the sector continues to be able to take advantage of.
By way of setting the context, if I may, the evolution of agricultural policy frameworks goes back almost 15 years. I would say that prior to the 2000s, because of concurrent jurisdiction and because of governments wanting to intervene on behalf of their producers, there were often misaligned policies and misaligned programs in the sector. Sometimes there was internecine competition between provinces wanting to get the best for their producers. The advent of a policy framework strategy that aligned policy and program among governments was a significant advantage for the sector.
The APF, the agricultural policy framework, in 2003 was the first such framework. We're now in the middle of the third.