Thank you, Mr. Chair. Erin Gowriluk and I will split our time, and I'll quickly make my opening remarks.
Once again, thank you for this opportunity to speak in front of your committee today. I am Jeff Nielsen, and I farm in central Alberta near Olds. I am chair of the Grain Growers of Canada, which is a national voice for grain, oilseed and pulse producers through our 15 regional and national grower associations.
To put it simply, we are extremely disappointed in the support offered to farmers to date. The recent $252-million announcement directed limited funding to select sectors while leaving others feeling totally ignored. Let me be clear: We do not expect to be your main or sole focus right now, but we also do not want to feel like an afterthought.
We do not have to look far to see a different level of support for agriculture in the face of COVID-19. Our direct competitor to the south has offered agriculture a support package that is well into the billions, with $6 billion recently going directly to crop producers.
For the benefit of the committee, let me give you some background on the state of the grain industry. Certain grain commodities, such as corn, have been significantly and directly impacted by COVID. With a decrease in demand for fuel, ethanol plants are running at a very diminished capacity. We do not expect a return to normal anytime soon. Soybean cash receipts have fallen nearly 40% over the last two years.
I am a malt barley producer. Malt barley demand is down significantly due to to the fact that the restaurants and hospitality industry have been affected by COVID, which has naturally decreased the demand for beer. Barley cash receipts are down 21% in 2020 from the same time last year. Malt contracts are being pushed well into the fall for the current crop year, and new crop contracts have been asked to be reduced due to the fact that we currently have an oversupply of malt barley.
Feed prices are very volatile. It's a reflection of what may happen to the U.S. crops and will definitely affect their feed prices. Flaxseed cash receipts have dropped 33% in the last year. Demand for pulses has remained stable, but there is the concern with the lack of container shipping, a problem complicated by the rail blockades this past year, port quarantines and decreased cargo ship movement at this time.
A regular amount of uncertainty is typical for us farmers—we plan for this—but these are not normal times. Recent years have been disastrous for many of us, in terms of weather, rising costs and growing market access challenges. In fact, Canadian farmers were not well positioned going into this pandemic. According to StatsCan, in 2018, farm incomes fell by nearly 21% while realized net farm income fell by 45%.
While StatsCan data from this week shows a rise in income for 2019 for the first time in three years, that does not give an accurate picture of agriculture. Excluding cannabis, which seems to be a new agricultural crop, crop revenues on the national level have decreased by over 1%.
Talking about StatsCan information, this only heightens the concern about our ability to service farm debt loads, which are now at a record high of $115 billion—an increase of nearly $30 billion in the past four years. I do not want to overstate this, but in reality our industry is hurting, and while it's not easy for older guys like me to admit, we need support.
I'll turn it over to Erin.