Evidence of meeting #12 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was production.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ryan Koeslag  Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association
Janet Krayden  Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association
Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst  Executive Director, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
Cyr Couturier  Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council
Ken Forth  President, Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services
Pierre Lampron  President, Dairy Farmers of Canada
David Wiens  Vice-President, Dairy Farmers of Canada
Michael Barrett  Chair, Dairy Processors Association of Canada
Mathieu Frigon  President and Chief Executive Officer, Dairy Processors Association of Canada

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jeremy Patzer Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Over the last couple of months we've seen thousands of young Canadians apply for financial support from the federal government as they're looking for summer jobs. On the same hand, we also have thousands of temporary foreign workers who are continuing to fill the demand for labour in the agriculture sector.

Given that, and we've heard that there still are shortages in getting temporary foreign workers in, what can we do to make the agriculture sector more appealing to young Canadians in order to fill the labour shortages we are currently experiencing?

I'm asking that in the sense that I grew up on a family farm, so I get the benefits of working on a farm and what it all takes, but what could we maybe do as an industry to try to make this more appealing for young Canadians from the city?

4:50 p.m.

Chair, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Cyr Couturier

I'll ask Portia, our executive director, to answer that one.

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst

It's a great question. This labour challenge that the industry is facing is very complicated. You've heard from many witnesses, including the witnesses today, about various aspects.

At CAHRC, we've been working on this with different industry stakeholders from across Canada, and we've always said that a multi-faceted problem needs a multi-faceted solution. A key piece of that is how we encourage more Canadians to be even more aware and more knowledgeable about how food is produced, that buying Canadian is a great thing in order to support this industry, and going as far as saying that this is a great industry to work in. It has fabulous appeal in terms of the environment and a strong customer base that's only growing.

How we get more Canadians interested in agriculture is a very important question and one that needs to be tackled as part of a national labour strategy. That's what we've been vying for, for many years, and that's what's necessary right now, aligned with so many recommendations that have been put forward by so many different studies. Now is the time to do that.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jeremy Patzer Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

I have a quick question in the 30 seconds I have left.

There are cool programs out there, such as “Agriculture in the Classroom”, to get high school kids engaged and informed on what's going on, but as far as post-secondary options are concerned, there are trade schools and things such as that. Is that an option for agriculture, going forward, to get more of the workforce engaged?

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst

There are lots of things that we need to be doing. We need to be looking at not only people who are aware of working in the industry but also the business students and the science students and pull them into this industry.

There aren't enough youth, though, to fix this labour shortage, so we need to be thinking much more broadly. Protecting access to foreign workers is critical, modernizing that approach, and thinking about others within the full spectrum of the Canadian workforce.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Dewhirst.

Now we'll go to Mr. Kody Blois for up to five minutes.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all the witnesses for their testimony. I'm going to start with the mushroom farmers.

Certainly, from Mr. Ellis's question, it sounds as though the industry has done quite well in the last 10 years. Is this a largely labour-intensive industry?

4:55 p.m.

Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Ryan Koeslag

Yes, it's a very labour-intensive industry. It's probably close to 50% of the costs. Every fresh mushroom that you find in a grocery store is picked by hand.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I was pleased to hear that, for a large part, labour uncertainty hasn't been an issue for your industry.

I think Ms. Krayden might have said it was 50 temporary foreign workers, at least, who were not available at the start of the pandemic. Is that correct?

4:55 p.m.

Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Ryan Koeslag

I'll let Janet answer that one, but I would say that we do have major labour issues. We're always in the situation of having high vacancies in the mushroom industry and the temporary foreign workers—

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

As it relates to temporary foreign workers, I heard that 50 temporary foreign workers were outside the country.

Ms. Krayden, can you confirm that?

4:55 p.m.

Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Janet Krayden

Yes. Actually, our sector is 70% Canadian workers, and we have about 900 temporary foreign worker program agricultural stream workers across Canada. They were in Canada. The 50 workers were the ones who were just on vacation.

However, as Ryan said, we have a 20% job vacancy rate on a regular basis, so we're still fighting that. Some farms have oversupply and other farms still have a labour shortage.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I appreciate that, and I don't mean to cut you off, but I want to keep moving.

What about the margins in the mushroom industry? Is this a high value margin product? Is it low margin? Just respond as quickly as you can.

4:55 p.m.

Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Ryan Koeslag

Honestly, I can't really speak to that.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Janet, in terms of the margins, is this a low-margin or high-margin industry? Maybe it depends on the product.

4:55 p.m.

Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Janet Krayden

We know it's a high-expense industry because of the capital investment and the amount of labour.

We can look into that and get back to you.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

That would be very helpful.

We heard about the additional cost. Has this created a situation where farmers are losing money, or is it just cutting into their existing margins?

4:55 p.m.

Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Janet Krayden

Go ahead, Ryan.

4:55 p.m.

Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Ryan Koeslag

Definitely there are situations where farms have closed. We know in P.E.I. they've stopped growing.

Yes, it's a situation where, if we look at the economies of scale for how these farms are operating, they're determining whether it's best to stay open and keep going during the worst COVID situations or whether they should be shutting down.

To be able to say it's black or white as to whether they're being profitable or whether they're actually going bankrupt, it's not that easy a picture to paint. Certainly it's a huge cost for them right now.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I appreciate that.

May 27th, 2020 / 4:55 p.m.

Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Janet Krayden

Also, the markets are very volatile right now.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I want to go to the comment that was made about the Olympic average, or the weighted average. You said we should just get rid of that.

Mr. Koeslag, could you explain quickly, in about 20 seconds, what you would see as an alternative?

4:55 p.m.

Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Ryan Koeslag

Essentially, look at the averages that are currently in place, without elimination of that weighted average, or at look at another option entirely. Canada can take a look at that. There are certain situations where it doesn't necessarily work to the benefit of expanding industries such as mushrooms. We're trying to help here. We're not trying to limit.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I certainly appreciate the testimony that was given.

Mr. Koeslag, you said at one point that there have been no programs available, but I want to note the fact that there's the emergency business account that was available to many farmers, and I assume that includes the mushroom industry. There's also the wage subsidy, Farm Credit Canada, the BCAP and AgriInvest, which I know is available. I know there are challenges, but I took a bit of exception to the fact that none of our programs have been able to be offered.

I want to take my comments over to Mr. Forth, if I could.

Ken, Charlie Keddy is in my riding. He's someone who speaks highly about your leadership. I know this was a challenging time, so first of all, thank you to farms for their continued work to get workers into the country. You mentioned the 86.5%, and that's a number that correlates with what the minister told our committee the last time she was here.

Is it fair to say that most of the challenges you face in terms of bringing workers in are actually in the countries of origin, in terms of their countries opening airspace or perhaps even having their own processing? Can you explain that?

5 p.m.

President, Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services

Ken Forth

Yes, it is definitely in the supply country.

For example, Trinidad and Tobago still haven't decided if they're going to send workers or not. Apparently they talk about it every Thursday, and tomorrow is another Thursday, so hopefully they'll open it up.

The eastern Caribbean just opened up.

There are a lot of problems with logistics in Mexico right now. We were lucky to have a lot of people cleared prior to the epidemic. Now, of course, all governments have slowed down and paperwork goes very slowly. Therefore, we're doing what we can.