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

12:40 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

In terms of the AgriRecovery initiatives, the programs must first be launched by the provinces before they are sent to the federal government for approval. So it is an arduous and lengthy process. Interpretations and results differ, depending on where the application comes from.

The AgriInsurance program raises a concern about crop insurance, for which some fruit and vegetable producers, particularly in the greenhouse sector, are not eligible. They are producing fruit and vegetables without crop insurance, yet they too face risks. Furthermore, Mr. Terrault mentioned earlier the concept of normal loss that we have in Quebec and that does not exist anywhere else in Canada. In fact, Quebec's participation rate in the crop insurance program is the lowest of all the other Canadian provinces. That is why harmonization among the provinces would be desirable.

Risk management programs should be improved for producers who invest and implement loss limits. For example, some people produce under a cover or a net, have better crop rotation or distribute their production geographically. Some producers invest to reduce their risk but do not benefit from the protection they get, whether it is crop insurance or insurance under AgriStability.

Therefore, with the current climate change, if we wanted to encourage people to protect themselves or get insurance, this would be a good way to do it.

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

In that respect, do you think it would be more appropriate to consider support upstream rather than downstream, without waiting for losses to occur? Should we support this type of initiative and, in particular, should we encourage land use or shoreline protection by compensating producers without always having to wait for losses at the outset?

12:45 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

We are currently working on an action plan with the provincial government. When we talk about investments in research, technology watch in innovation or adaptation to climate change, all those factors most affect fruit and vegetable production in the agricultural sector in Canada.

We were talking about large-scale programs that do not help all productions equally. Fruit and vegetable production raises climate change concerns that other crops do not have. So, hearing about upstream investment programs or incentive programs does our hearts good.

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you very much.

Mrs. Desbiens, the floor is yours.

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to all our witnesses. Their remarks are very interesting.

I'm going to stick with the topic of agriculture. In my riding, there are many small farmers. Could the programs not provide provisions that are better suited to small and medium-sized farms, compared to large farms?

12:45 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

You are absolutely right.

Often, the programs that are created are intended to apply equally to everyone. However, when we take a look at the minimum investment parameters of funding programs, we realize that small farmers cannot have access to these programs because the investment threshold is higher than they can afford or they need. Let me use the example of an apple grower who wants to invest in a particular technology, who has a small orchard, but who does not qualify for any program because of its small size.

Therefore, it is very important that programs be adapted to make sure that small businesses are eligible. We also need to set aside funds for these small businesses because they do not always have the staff to examine the programs and prepare the applications, unlike large, structured operations.

If a program is launched at this time of year, producers are on their farms growing their crops. So they will only look at the program in the winter.

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

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

With environmental protection in mind, I think we have to insist that small producers be able to be efficient locally, so that a lot of food is not transported unnecessarily.

12:50 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

Absolutely.

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

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

It's very relevant. We absolutely agree.

Thank you very much.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mrs. Desbiens and Mr. St-Denis.

Mrs. Desbiens, I think the strawberries are out on the Île d'Orléans.

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

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

They are better than anywhere else in the world.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Yes, I know.

Mr. MacGregor, go ahead for up to six minutes.

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to our witnesses.

I'd like to start with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association for my first question.

You've detailed the troubles that COVID-19 has brought about for your sector, the rolling backlog of livestock that exists because our meat-processing plants were shut down and are now operating at a reduced capacity. There is that backup in our feedlots, and of course it's going to crash into the cow-calf season coming up later this year.

I wanted to drill down specifically on AgriRecovery, because that's the program that has funnelled some money through to help you deal with the pandemic.

I think the phrase “a drop in the bucket” was mentioned in connection with whether this program is going to be able to help you over the long term. How much more is going to be needed, and is AgriRecovery over the next year going to live up to its name and actually help producers recover from this massive shock to the system?

12:50 p.m.

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

Charlie Christie

I won't comment on the technical part, the actual numbers. I'll let Brady do that.

When you consider the backlog and the losses being taken at feedlots right now, “a drop in the bucket” probably isn't the most professional term to use. As was mentioned earlier today, AgriRecovery has the word “recovery” in it, and it is going to help. Don't get me wrong—it will be a welcome assistance, but as for making producers whole, I'm not sure it can come close.

Brady, if you want to throw some numbers at this, it would probably help out.

12:50 p.m.

Manager, Policy and Programs, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Brady Stadnicki

Charlie, thanks for the question.

I will talk a little about some of the other BRM recovery programs that we've highlighted for the two sectors you've mentioned.

Coming back to our recommendations and some of the losses that we've seen in the feeding industry due to all of this, the recommendation around payment caps and the need for them to better reflect the size of the industry is quite important, with $3 million being a number that was used and set in place many iterations of the program ago. I think that increasing that cap needs to be looked at going forward, especially for larger feeders in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 head and above, and then, as you say, filtering down to the cow-calf sector and AgriStability.

This is really where the reference margin limit plays a huge role in putting those producers at a disadvantage under the program. They need a devastating drop in revenue before that program is really going to provide benefit for them, just because of their cost structure. I know MNP talked about that a little bit earlier in their presentation.

As we look forward, along with the 85% reference margin trigger, I think these are all things that need to be looked at very seriously within the AgriStability program.

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Okay, great, Thank you for that.

I'd like to turn to the Quebec Produce Growers Association.

My sound cut out a little bit, so I'm not sure if you already answered this question with my Liberal colleague Madame Bessette, but you mentioned that the federal government was working with the provinces and territories to include labour shortages as an eligible risk for your sector under AgriInsurance. Access to labour is of course a big risk for your sector, as we've definitely seen this year, but it is definitely a recurring problem for individual producers to secure the labour pool that they need in order to get the produce harvested and get it to market.

Could you talk a little about how such a program would work and the basic mechanics of it?

June 23rd, 2020 / 12:55 p.m.

Director General, Quebec Produce Growers Association

Jocelyn St-Denis

Ms. Bibeau made a clear call to the provinces that she would recommend that be AgriInsurance programs, for the lack of manpower due to the COVID-19 situation. However, no provinces as of now have answered to that and adjusted the program for that. We have situations where a shortage of labour will happen. We saw in asparagus season, for instance, in a lot of areas where the fields were completely lost because of a lack of manpower for harvesting. We see that in strawberries right now, where, with the hot temperature, the fruits are ready very fast and we don't have the manpower to harvest them all, so there are losses there. This will happen throughout the season.

If there were adjustments to the AgriInsurance program covering the lack of manpower or taking care of the crops or harvesting the crops, that would be a very good thing.

However, according to discussions with our province's agriculture minister, they rely on the AgriStability program because they say that the labour is not an insurable risk right now through the crop insurance program. They don't want to touch the crop insurance program but would like to see solutions through AgriStability. This is right because, if there's a lack, AgriStability will catch it. If there's no lack, AgriStability won't need to pay. On the other hand, for a season like this year, I think it's a very good idea to have labour as an insurable risk.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. St-Denis and Mr. MacGregor.

Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for this panel. I want to thank the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Mr. Stadnicki and Mr. Christie; the Quebec Produce Growers Association, Mr. Terrault and Mr. St-Denis; and as an individual, Mr. Justin Jenner, beef and grain producer.

Members, please stay on so we can look at our draft letter, version three, and make sure it's ready to go. You've all received a copy of it from our analyst, made some corrections and modifications. Are there any further comments or is that the final version we want to send Minister Bibeau?

Go ahead, Mr. Perron.

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Yes, we all received the letter.

Mr. Barlow told us that we had to submit the proposed amendments by the morning of the day before yesterday, if we had any.

Personally, the most recent version is just fine with me. I guess that's true for everyone.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Perron.

Mr. Barlow, you had your hand up.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I have no other additions to the letter. I just want to make sure, to the clerk, that the letter is going to be up on the committee's website as part of the process of being sent to the minister .

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Clerk, is that the case? Analysts? Whoever wants to answer that.

12:55 p.m.

The Clerk

Yes, absolutely. If this is the will of the committee, we will post the letter on the committee's website shortly after it's sent to the Minister of Agriculture.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. MacGregor, go ahead.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Yes, I just wanted to signal that it's fine with me as well.