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

4:30 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

I'd say it's been a steady increase for us. There's been a lot of expansion across Canada over the last 10 years, and we've had increased exports to the United States at the same time.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

I'm sorry, Chair. I can't hear.

4:30 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

I apologize for that.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We are having a really hard time hearing you, Mr. Koeslag. We'll just pause for a minute so the technician can check your sound.

Okay. Let's give it a try again.

4:30 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

Sir, I was just saying that we have had an increase in production over the last 10 years, in addition to that going to the United States. About 40% of mushroom production in Canada goes to the United States.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

Speaking of that, how has your export market been affected?

4:30 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

There was a bit of a drop at the outset. There was a bit of a reaction in the retail sector, in addition to the loss of the food service, but now the exports to the United States have actually increased, as they've been experiencing the COVID situation as well. Some of that food service has gone down to the United States, but that's not going to be sustaining for a long period of time. We're expecting that to be drying up probably within the next one to two weeks.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

How many growers are there across Canada?

4:30 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

Stats Canada has over 132 growers, but as far as our membership and the sizable commercial production goes, we're looking at about 52, which employ about 4,500 people across Canada.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

In your seven minutes, you talked about oversupply and you talked about how you cut production back. Could you explain that?

May 27th, 2020 / 4:30 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

Mushrooms are a fairly responsive crop. They grow about 4% every hour, which doubles their size every 24 hours, essentially, but when there was the oversupply and they were throwing away product, they cut production back. It takes about a month from beginning to finish, from when a mushroom starts growing, so when they had the oversupply and were throwing them away, they were also adapting and reducing production in order not to have throwaways.

With that, the oversupply situation ended and they answered that problem, but there have been some who have suffered more than others.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

You mentioned that one farm spent $100,000 a month on PPE. I wonder what the average farm would spend. You talked about the province only allowing $7,500 per farm, which would be used very quickly. What were you looking for per farm on average?

4:35 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

The average cost is difficult, because there is a wide variety of types of production. Certainly, when they are having costs that high, they are putting in the maximized benefit and prevention methods: the Plexiglass, the masks, the increased housing and increased transportation.

We looked at assembling the cost through a survey of our members, and estimated costs were $240,000 per week.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

Is that through your 52 farms, or is that through the 132 growers?

4:35 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

That's through our 52 farms.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

Okay, so it would be higher if you included all the growers.

4:35 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

Yes and no. We probably represent over 90% of the mushrooms that are found in the grocery stores and the exports to the United States.

4:35 p.m.

Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

Go ahead.

4:35 p.m.

Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Janet Krayden

I will speak about the PPE, which I've done a lot of the research on. Very early, the farms started to move quickly to invest in Plexiglass, extra housing and extra busing. That's why we're getting these costs. What we're seeing with the way the programs are being set up, unfortunately, is that they seem to be setting up from May forward, so all of the work that's been done with the Plexiglass in March and April will not have any reimbursement. Therefore, we're asking for help to get that amended as the programs are being developed. That way, at least, the farmers will get some fair reimbursement for putting in all this preventative stuff.

We don't want a situation like the one the meat processors had with outbreaks. We can prevent that with these kinds of good practices that a lot of our growers have done.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Neil Ellis Liberal Bay of Quinte, ON

Thank you.

My last question is on provincial help. You mentioned the one program, $7,500 per farm. Has there been any other provincial help?

4:35 p.m.

Workforce Expert, Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association

Janet Krayden

Yes and no. There are some provincial programs. In fact, we were just on a call, before this, with the provincial ag minister, Minister Hardeman, and now we're on a call with the provincial ag minister from B.C. There's a new procurement program in B.C., but we're not sure. There isn't any price offset, and the masks are running at $3.50 a mask. We don't know if they're the N95s.

Also, in Alberta there was a procurement. They included us in the procurement process right along with their health care workers. We were quite excited. We were waiting for supplies for a month, and then we just got an email saying that we're now not part of it. The dentists will be getting them but not farm workers, unfortunately.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Krayden.

Thank you, Mr. Ellis.

Ms. Desbiens, you have the floor for six minutes.

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline Desbiens Bloc Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank my colleague Yves Perron for giving me the floor during the first round of questions.

I also thank the witnesses for their very interesting presentations.

I'm from Charlevoix. I have visited with the farmers in my riding in order to get a feel for real life. I have talked to people about the company Champignons Charlevoix, a great company that is expanding. Champignons Charlevoix supplies mushrooms to hotels, restaurants and inns. As you probably know, Charlevoix is a choice destination.

Since people can no longer make orders or purchases, Champignons Charlevoix has revised its way of doing things. Indeed, the company has gone into retail. The company now produces pickled and dried mushrooms. These products are sold in the boutique, but since that is closed, online commerce has served as a lifeline. Online trade was already possible, and it was effective. However, the company now realizes that it could further develop e-commerce internationally. Of course, the complexity of international relations, international trade and privacy protection when shopping online means that the company is limited in this respect.

Ms. Robitaille's question was whether there was a possibility that the government would invest in the future. Mr. Koeslag or Ms. Krayden, what do you think?

We in the Bloc Québécois are thinking about the future, the post-COVID-19 period. Is there a way to invest in order to save certain businesses, such as Champignons Charlevoix, in terms of e-commerce, for example?

4:40 p.m.

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

Ryan Koeslag

There has been an opportunity, and certainly the Ontario government, too, has provided some funding for doing the online sales and creating portals for that.

We have to recognize that there has been a huge burden for these farms in the costs of COVID, and, at the same time, they have not been assisted at all with the loss of production. This is very large-scale. We're talking about grocery store supply as well as the food service supply. I'm not sure if the logistics of having it individually supplied through online sales to homes are really a direction the industry would be going in. That's fairly large-scale, and that's where we have lost.