Thank you, Chair, co-chair and members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, for the invitation and the opportunity for CFIB to share our members' views today.
Slide 2 shows you that CFIB is a non-partisan organization with 110,000 small and medium-sized firms, of which 7,200 are agribusiness members, and a majority of those are primary producers. We take direction from our members through surveys on an ongoing basis. What our survey shows is that the COVID pandemic has had a devastating impact on Canada's ag sector.
Slide 3 shows our monthly business barometer. An index range of 65 to 70 shows an economy where a sector is growing at its potential. As you can see, the ag sector's index trails the average by about nine points.
Since the announcement of the $252 million in emergency funding on May 5, we continue to hear heartbreaking stories from our agribusiness members in many sectors and across the country about the challenges they're facing as a result of the pandemic.
A lot of our economic activity has been frozen during the pandemic response. Farmers aren't able to freeze their operations; they can't turn a light switch on and off. Their animals still need to be fed and cared for, and they have tight windows in which to plant, harvest and get their products to market. Unfortunately, they've also had to make many tough decisions, such as having to plow down crops, destroy produce or contemplate putting down their livestock due to reduced capacity at processing facilities or changes in the market demand.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, CFIB has been serving our members on a weekly basis, with about 12,000 responses by each weekend from across every sector. We have presented those findings to the federal government and to provincial governments across the country to assist in decision-making.
What we have found is that agriculture is not immune to the devastating impacts of this pandemic. As shown on slide 4, almost 70% are worried about the economic repercussions on the provincial, national and global economies. These are extremely stressful and uncertain times for the ag sector, as the supply chain problems have cascaded right down through the sector all the way to the primary producer. The chart also shows that almost 40% of farmers are worried about debt, business cash flow and overwhelming stress. We know that farmers are already highly leveraged. A recent StatsCan indication is that, collectively, nationwide farm debt rose by about 8.7% in 2019.
Slide 5 shows that temporary foreign workers and labour shortages continue to be issues for farmers. We know that prior to the pandemic 60,000 temporary foreign workers came to work in Canada's agriculture, food and fish processing industries every year. Despite this, 15,000 job vacancies were reported in the ag sector. This committee is well aware of the challenges there.
A long-term strategy is needed to address those labour shortages in the future. However, we do recognize that there are initiatives, such as the agri-food pilot, which is providing a pathway to residency, and the $1,500 per temporary foreign worker to help with isolation requirements. As shown on our chart, though, 84% of those who hire temporary foreign workers say that it's difficult to find Canadian workers with the skills needed to work in their agribusiness.
Slide 6 really does show the impact of the carbon tax. We continue to hear about the impact of the federal carbon tax. I should say that in addition to the pandemic, the grain sector is really trying to recover from a difficult harvest, transportation issues and trade and market access issues. We know that just a couple of weeks ago some farmers were still trying to harvest last year's crop and were incurring costly carbon taxes to dry their grain.
Slide 7 really shows the impact. We did a survey which showed the average impact to the farmers' bottom line is about $14,000 for the carbon tax in the last year. What we also need to do is recognize that farmers have already taken many steps to protect the environment. One practical way to help the farmers' bottom line is to exempt natural gas, propane, fertilizer and shipping costs.
With slide 8, I want to show you that we did survey our members following the announcement a couple of weeks ago. We understand the enormous challenges in designing support programs and getting them out quickly, and we appreciate the government's willingness to approve emergency programs, such as CEBA and the wage subsidy program.
Unfortunately, we're finding that even though the funding is a good step, these survey results show that only 29% of farmers say that it will be helpful. In public comments, the federal government has said that these measures are an initial investment, and if they do need to, they will do more.
The time to do more is now. One of our members said it well: “Investing in our food industry has never been more important than now. We cannot rely on other countries to feed us.” I did send to the committee a few weeks ago a letter and a report that provided hundreds of comments from farmers about the challenges they're facing and the measures the government needs to look at to address those challenges.
Finally, it's very clear from the hundreds of comments from farmers across the country that the agriculture sector is not immune from the many short-term business challenges and long-lasting effects of COVID-19. The livestock sector alone has seen mounting costs and losses in the past several weeks. The Canadian Cattlemen's Association estimates that the industry will lose about half a billion dollars by the end of June. The Canadian Pork Council also gives an estimate of losses north of $600 million.
We've outlined some very specific recommendations. We do need additional emergency funding. These are unprecedented times, and certainly we need to look at protecting the Canadian food supply. We need to improve our business risk management programs to make them timely, responsive, effective and transparent. Restoring AgriStability's reference margin to 85% would be a start.
We have a recommendation with respect to reducing red tape in interprovincial trade, and a common-sense recommendation on the carbon tax. We also cannot—