Evidence of meeting #20 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 producers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

René Roy  Administrator, Les Éleveurs de porcs du Québec
Stuart Person  Senior Vice-President, Agriculture, MNP LLP
Steve Funk  Director, Ag Risk Management Resources, MNP LLP
Jake Ayre  Farmer, Southern Seed Ltd.
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Marc-Olivier Girard
Mario Rodrigue  Acting Director General , Les Éleveurs de porcs du Québec
Charlie Christie  Chair, Domestic Agriculture Policy and Regulations Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association
Sylvain Terrault  President, Quebec Produce Growers Association
Jocelyn St-Denis  Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association
Justin Jenner  Beef and Grain Producer, As an Individual
Brady Stadnicki  Manager, Policy and Programs, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you very much, Mr. Jenner.

Now we'll go to the question portion of our panel.

Mr. Soroka, you have up to six minutes. Go ahead.

June 23rd, 2020 / 12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will be splitting my time with Ms. Rood.

Thank you to the presenters today.

Mr. Christie, seeing as how you're a cow-calf and feedlot operator, has AgriRecovery actually helped much in mitigating any losses, or has it just been a small token of assistance?

12:30 p.m.

Chair, Domestic Agriculture Policy and Regulations Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Charlie Christie

It's definitely going to be of assistance, I would say. Brady can elaborate a little bit.

The only AgriRecovery that we've seen has been on the set-aside programs. We're working very closely with government to try to stretch those as far as they will go. In my opinion, they will be a drop in the bucket of a pretty big problem for the backed-up cattle we have.

Brady, do you want to add anything?

12:30 p.m.

Brady Stadnicki Manager, Policy and Programs, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Yes. Thanks, Charlie. I can add to that.

To provide some context, we're still at about 130,000 head of backed-up cattle as of the week ending June 13. Feedlots have incurred additional costs of around $3.6 million to that week, ranging anywhere from $605-per-head losses earlier in the pandemic.... That has been lowered a little bit as we've progressed, to just over $200 per head.

Certainly, with the AgriRecovery funding and the set-aside that's looking to be in place in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, there will be some really good usefulness for it as we get into larger supplies coming in ready for market in that July-to-September time frame. Using that program will provide some help with being able to manage the supply with the demand of cattle.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Okay.

Mr. Christie, you also said that you would bring forward changes to AgriStability. Would this make it more equitable based on the farm size and the structure as well? Would this help in that regard?

12:30 p.m.

Chair, Domestic Agriculture Policy and Regulations Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Charlie Christie

Yes, that's actually specifically where it will help certain farm structures. To do the accounting and the application to AgriStability, the cost is onerous, plus the job itself is onerous. A lot of the smaller farms, specifically cow-calf operations, don't apply for it because they don't see the benefit down the road. This would make the triggers happen much sooner. There would be different parameters around it, so it would definitely be more equitable for those types of farms.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

I'm glad to see that you also want to do the livestock price insurance right across Canada. That's going to be a big assistance for a lot of producers, that's for sure.

Do you see any problems, though, in how it's based on the market value of the fluctuations? Sometimes you're only paying $7 and then it can go up to $50 per calf. Is that going to be an issue? How do we address that?

12:30 p.m.

Chair, Domestic Agriculture Policy and Regulations Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Charlie Christie

I'm a firm believer in the WLPIP myself. I use it every year, whether it's a good year or a bad year. Right now the premiums are indeed high, and that's based on the volatility. I don't know how you can get around that. Perhaps you could mitigate that volatility somehow with a little more backstop from the government, to take some of the risk out of it for the underwriters. I understand that the volatility equation needs to be in the system, just to cover the program so that the program itself can continue running.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Thank you, Mr. Christie.

I'll pass it on to Ms. Rood.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lianne Rood Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Terrault, you mentioned that in vegetable production in Quebec there are a lot of small family farms with diverse crops and that some of these programs are not one-size-fits-all, especially in this sector. You also mentioned that we're going to have strong import competition.

Our food production is an essential service, and we've talked a lot about food security here. In your province, with this pandemic and with labour shortages and with these programs not working this year, do you foresee a lot of bankruptcies or a likelihood of family businesses losing their farms? If so, how is this going to impact our food security here in Canada, not just for now but in years to come, and even in having to rely on imports?

12:35 p.m.

President, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Sylvain Terrault

Since I spoke at length earlier, I will let my director general answer the question. There are actually a number of questions, but I think he fully understood.

12:35 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

Thank you for your question, Ms. Rood.

Yes, this is a very difficult and demanding season for family businesses, small businesses and even large companies. Many of the programs that have been designed provide more assistance to small businesses and small farms. However, we seem to forget that large businesses produce a higher percentage of what is being consumed and that they are the driving force behind the current economy. We have to think of all businesses, small and large.

In terms of whether there will be a lot of bankruptcies, I would say that many producers have taken the risk of going ahead this year. As Mr. Terrault was saying earlier, we asked the Quebec and federal governments to tell us in advance that the programs would be adapted, that we could go ahead and that they would compensate for the losses related to COVID-19.

We all know that the current sector has labour issues. In Quebec, we still need more than 3,000 foreign workers for the harvest. Over the next few weeks—

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. St-Denis. Unfortunately, we are out of time. You may have the opportunity to continue later.

Thank you, Ms. Rood.

Mrs. Bessette, you have the floor for six minutes.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lyne Bessette Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will be sharing my time with my friend Mr. Blois.

Mr. Gervais, the president of the Sollio cooperative group, spoke recently about the many possibilities offered by technology. Our committee is currently studying business risk management programs.

I'm going to direct my questions to the Quebec Produce Growers Association. I would like to know how technology contributes to risk management in produce businesses.

Are these technologies effective in preventing losses?

12:35 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

There are large farms and small farms. As we were saying, there are many small farms. Information technologies are significantly less accessible to small producers and small farms than to larger companies. In terms of risk management, the means are in place. For example, to manage pests, scouts go out and survey the fields. Technology can help with that. We can also use drones in the fields. However, companies must be of a certain minimum size, first, to be able to afford the technological equipment and, second, to have trained personnel who can use it.

In terms of our dependence on labour, technology can replace repetitive work done by an employee on the farm. If we want to be less dependent on labour, we can automate repetitive tasks, such as weeding, irrigation or harvesting. Research will be needed to see what methods are available and adapt them to the growing conditions of different products.

There are 120 different fruit and vegetable products in Canada. The machines are not designed for all products. Our crops are very diverse, compared to monocultures. This is a challenge, and in the coming years, we will need to make investments and set up research programs in automation so that we are less dependent on labour and more up to date in terms of risk management.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Lyne Bessette Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. St-Denis. You also answered my second question.

My next question is about the AgriInvest program. Certainly, a lot has been said about it, but what aspects of AgriInvest are currently working for producers and which ones should be improved?

12:40 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

The AgriInvest program is currently capped at 1% of eligible net sales, and these sales are capped at $1 million.

The government contribution is a maximum of $10,000 for a farm. One of the improvements is to remove the cap or increase the eligible net margins to a more appropriate level based on farm size, so that farms can receive the funds they need.

AgriInvest is designed to help deal with the small hurdles that may arise, but also to help develop the business and invest in equipment.

A government contribution of up to $10,000 a year is not how this program will move forward. Producers will use programs and add their own contributions. It's still the equity of the business, not government equity.

Quebec created an Agri-Québec to offset the cuts in 2013. For Quebec businesses, this allows them to have an investment with no limit on eligible net sales. So the amounts are more substantial and they can be used by businesses for the investments and research they need to move their business forward.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Lyne Bessette Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Perfect. Thank you very much, Mr. St-Denis.

Mr. Blois, it's your turn.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kody Blois Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you, Ms. Bessette. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My questions are to the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

You mentioned the western price index, and you've made it clear that you want to extend this program into the Maritimes. We know that would be beneficial for many beef farmers. You were proposing a pilot to start. Do you have an idea of what the cost would be to able to extend this coverage?

12:40 p.m.

Chair, Domestic Agriculture Policy and Regulations Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Charlie Christie

Brady, I'll let you take that one.

12:40 p.m.

Manager, Policy and Programs, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Brady Stadnicki

Yes, sounds good.

Certainly, that is our objective, to get a pilot established in maritime Canada, using a unique index that's reflective of eastern Canadian pricing. We're working on an industry-funded project right now that's going to develop that specific index. That work is going on with price collection data and looking at the cost of upgrading certain databases for a particular administrator. We're working on some of that information right now, to establish what the overall cost would be.

We've done some estimating around what potential liabilities would be for provincial governments and the federal government with deficit financing and backstopping a runoff if maritime producers were to go off the current western index right now. That was a very rough estimate of about $5 million of potential liability for different participation levels from producers in maritime Canada.

A number of these agreements that are in place between the federal government and the western provinces that participate in the program right now do have all of that information, and we're looking to work with them.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Blois.

We will now turn to Mr. Perron.

Mr. Perron, you have six minutes.

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will be sharing my time with Mrs. Desbiens.

I will start with the Quebec Produce Growers Association.

Mr. St-Denis, earlier, you started to list a number of recommendations in your presentation. You talked about AgriStability. Our witnesses have been unanimous: amend the AgriInvest program, increase government funding, and remove the cap on the government's contribution.

Do you have any other recommendations that you may not have had time to mention earlier?

12:40 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

Mr. Perron, thank you for opening the door so that I can continue to present our requests.

We also have some for AgriRecovery in terms of consistency in processing applications. We need to simplify the steps and speed up the processing of applications. We know that AgriRecovery—

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Excuse me, Mr. St-Denis. Could you move closer to your microphone, please?

Thank you.