Evidence of meeting #13 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 market.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Benoît Fontaine  Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Jeff Nielsen  Chair of the Board, Grain Growers of Canada
Erin Gowriluk  Executive Director, Grain Growers of Canada
Dave Carey  Vice-President, Government and Industry Relations, Canadian Canola Growers Association
Michael Laliberté  Executive Director, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Jean-Michel Laurin  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council
Joël Cormier  Chair of the Board, Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council
Rory McAlpine  Senior Vice-President, Government and Industry Relations, Maple Leaf Foods Inc.
Paulin Bouchard  President and Chief Executive Officer, Fédération des producteurs d’œufs du Québec

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Perron, unfortunately, your time is up.

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Chair, my time was cut by a minute at the outset.

I have a question to ask.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Perron, your time was readjusted.

I am sorry, but I must move on to the next member.

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

I am sorry for the other witnesses we have been unable to hear from.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We have Mr. MacGregor for six minutes.

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you very much, Chair.

It's good to see our witnesses. Welcome to our virtual committee. It's good to see many of your faces again.

I'll start with Grain Growers of Canada.

Since we've started studying COVID-19's effects on agriculture and agri-food—we started back in early May; this is our seventh meeting on the subject—in some cases, it has felt very much like a continuation of our original study on the business risk management programs. We've heard a litany of complaints about how BRM programs are still not working and we need to see federal leadership.

Mr. Nielsen, I'm really sorry to hear that the current federal offers just aren't cutting it. I hope that this feedback is acted upon.

I will continue with what Mr. Barlow was touching on. When the federal agriculture minister says to producers that they need to start accessing these programs and making use of the money that's available in order for her to make the case to her cabinet colleagues that producers need more money, how do you respond to those comments?

2:45 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Grain Growers of Canada

Jeff Nielsen

Thank you, Mr. MacGregor.

It's a challenge. I think farmers are trying to use the programs that are available to them to their best advantage.

Erin made the comment that crop insurance is one of the programs that farmers participate in and really appreciate. AgriInvest could have some work done on it. It could be a tool that the government could use to get more cash into a farmer's pocket. AgriStability, at less than 30% enrolment, has been proven to be a disaster.

To Mr. Barlow's question on the pandemic, had we actually had reforms made to AgriStability, as we've asked to have for a couple of years now, and had reforms been in place prior to the pandemic, they probably could have kicked in and helped. It's hard to be retroactive to anything. We want to be proactive, and that's what farming is. We're a proactive group.

Erin, can you comment?

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Ms. Gowriluk, you made the comment about wanting to see federal leadership.

If you go to the Constitution of Canada, it's interesting to note that section 95 clearly gives the federal government the authority to make laws in relation to agriculture. With regard to any comments that we need to wait for the provinces, the federal government could actually step in and make the fixes to AgriStability, if it so wished.

2:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Grain Growers of Canada

Erin Gowriluk

Yes. We've been calling for some federal leadership. We know very clearly that it is within the agriculture minister's mandate to address AgriStability in particular.

I want to build on a point, if I may, that Mr. Perron made.

I'm not an expert on supply management, but I think it's an interesting perspective that supply management offers a certain level of protection to the sector during times like this. I might suggest that the export-oriented sector is also worthy of a level of protection during times like this. I think that if we had addressed some of the challenges we're currently facing through this pandemic period—and to Jeff's point with respect to some of the market access challenges we're facing and what we call last year's harvest from hell—we wouldn't find ourselves in the situation we're currently in.

This could have been done proactively, and I think it could have been done more effectively to address some of the challenges we're facing during the pandemic. I think you would have seen fewer requests for ad hoc support if a framework were already in place to provide the meaningful support that export-oriented farmers are, in my view, entitled to.

May 29th, 2020 / 2:50 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Those are good points. Thank you for that.

In the couple of minutes I have left, Mr. Carey, I'd like to turn to you and to the canola growers. I'd like to expand on your comments about the Canadian fuel standards.

In my riding we have a proponent, Cowichan Energy Alternatives. They want to expand their operations. They have sort of a bioenergy cluster where they're turning used cooking fuel into a diesel additive.

You mentioned that you wanted to go to 5%. Putting this in the context that I don't think our relations with China are going to get better any time soon, I'd like you to illustrate more about what kind of an economic shot in the arm this could represent if we got a clear direction from the federal government that we want these kinds of renewable fuel standards in place. What kind of investment would that lead to, especially in refining capacity in turning canola oil into a usable fuel additive?

2:50 p.m.

Vice-President, Government and Industry Relations, Canadian Canola Growers Association

Dave Carey

Thanks for your comment.

We estimate that it would be about 1.3 million tonnes, which would be evaluated at over $1 billion, should the clean fuel standard be moved to 5% for biodiesel and for which canola is arguably the best feedstock. It burns approximately 90% cleaner than just petroleum.

I think this would send a clear demand signal for farmers to continue to grow and invest in their farms, and in a way that has domestic value-added jobs for Canadians. Biodiesel plants are located across the country. This provides a great opportunity to continue to grow the canola industry in a way that is not reliant upon another export market. Again, the fact that it could possibly be a market the size of Japan export-wise is fairly staggering from my perspective.

I think that 5% would also send the demand signal further down the value chain to both crushers and biodiesel plants that they should be innovating and investing. We need the signal so the investments can begin to go, and so that when farmers do harvest their crops in the fall, they have more options as to where they sell that product [Inaudible—Editor]

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

If we're going to build that kind of resiliency and have agriculture lead the way, absolutely, I think, for our economic recovery....

Thank you very much for those comments.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

With that, we'll move to Mr. Soroka for five minutes.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

This question goes out to Mr. Nielsen.

You've brought up the staggering debt load that farmers have right now, yet the government talks about how they've helped farmers by increasing the Farm Credit Corporation by $5 billion. I've never understood how you're going to borrow your way out of debt. Could you give me some comments on that, please?

2:50 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Grain Growers of Canada

Jeff Nielsen

If I had the answer to that, it would be good, but I can't help you there.

It's a big concern when you offer more avenues for increased debt and you're not solving the problems that we're experiencing on the export market, as Mr. Carey, Erin and others have commented. We need government that will go into these marketplaces, such as India where the pulses concern is, such as Italy with durum, which has become better, and such as China with oilseeds.

We can't compete with a neighbour to the south that has limitless pockets, or deep pockets, to support their sector. We need actions where trade avenues actually work. We're free marketers. We enjoy that. We don't like debt.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

We know that the minister has moved the next FPT meeting to October but had promised a decision on the BRM review for July. Has the minister reached out to the Grain Growers or maybe the AGgrowth Coalition to create a forum in which discussions could continue?

2:55 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Grain Growers of Canada

Jeff Nielsen

Not at this time, no. We have a request that the chairs of the AGgrowth Coalition meet with the ministers. They apparently have weekly calls, but I'm not sure if it's just the deputy ministers who are on these calls or if it's the actual FPT ministers for each province and territory.

We've just submitted that request. As you and Erin have noted in Minister Bibeau's mandate letter, there were supposed to be reforms to the BRM programs. We were assured back in December that something would be happening. Postponing the meeting until October now really throws it up in the air. We don't know what's going on.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

With the AgriStability application deadlines extended to July 3, 2020, how important is it for the grain farmers to see the minister's promised BRM reforms prior to this deadline?

2:55 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Grain Growers of Canada

Jeff Nielsen

Unless they extend the deadline, with it currently at the 70% coverage with less than 30% participation, we're not going to see anybody else sign up. Why bother? It costs money. It's not a program that's friendly for a person to do themselves. You get your accountant to do it, and it costs money.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Yes. That's well understood.

Mr. Carey, on the advance payment program you've been offering for many years through the government, you're the ones who initiated it. Because of the start of April 1 and a lot of staff delays and that, how is this going to impact the producers? I know that even the person who's renting my farmland doesn't have the money.

Are some of these people now potentially not going to have money to buy fertilizer and cover input costs? Will they essentially go bankrupt because they cannot get access to these funds that have been on a yearly basis for them?

2:55 p.m.

Vice-President, Government and Industry Relations, Canadian Canola Growers Association

Dave Carey

We are one of 36 administrators of the federal government's advance payments program. CCGA is by far the largest, doing over 60% of the dollar value.

There have been delays. We weren't prepared for the new creditworthiness measures that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada put in place for April 1, 2020. We were not in a place to deal with those new creditworthiness measures as well as relocating our 65 staff to work remotely. We've heard in other conversations the fact that some of our staff live in rural Canada, based outside Winnipeg. Dealing with one or the other would have been certainly manageable. Dealing with both was very difficult.

We are now in a position that by next week we will be able to return to our normal business turnaround times, which is between three to five business days.

To date, we've issued over 3,000 advances, for $400 million.

We're not the only advance administrator, but as the largest one, we take that responsibility very seriously. We've been in constant communication with our farmer customers and have successfully renegotiated with AAFC twice, as far as loosening some of that red tape is concerned to allow our front-line staff to get the advance payments to farmers in a timely manner.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

I think that's my time.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

That's pretty much it. Thank you, Mr. Soroka.

Now we have Mr. Blois for five minutes.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for your testimony today.

I'm going to start with the Chicken Farmers of Canada.

In my riding of Kings—Hants, we have the most supply-managed farms east of Montreal. The poultry and dairy industries in particular are of very strong importance.

Mr. Fontaine and Mr. Laliberté, Nick de Graaf is the second vice-chair of Chicken Farmers of Canada. We had a conversation this week and we talked about your industry. You talked about an 11% cut in production for July to August. Have you looked at what it could be afterward? Nick was saying it could be down to about 7%. Are things improving generally as we move along?

2:55 p.m.

Chair of the Board, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

The situation is slowly getting resolved. As we said, there is a very clear cut in terms of the needs of buyers and those of hotel and restaurant owners, for instance.

What may two consecutive eight-week periods look like? I don't have a crystal ball, but I can speculate that, in the fall, production may be slightly lower than last year and that everything could return to normal at the end of the year, either in December or in January.

The supply management system makes it possible to very quickly react to that drop. There has also been a shift toward new products: more products have been delivered to grocery stores and much fewer products to hotels and restaurants.

That is what I expect by the end of the year, Mr. Blois.