The Quebec Produce Growers Association is a voluntary association of Quebec's main produce growers and horticultural producers. The association is a significant force, since nearly 80% of Quebec's produce comes from its members.
Fruit and vegetable production in Quebec generated just over $1 billion in farm gate receipts in 2018. From 2008 to 2017, growth in Quebec's edible horticultural production was nearly 1.4 times higher than for agriculture as a whole. The economic contribution of the entire sector is not negligible: its contribution to Quebec's gross domestic product is $4.1 billion. Overall, the sector generates some 62,000 jobs.
Our sector has different characteristics from those of other agricultural sectors. We use labour intensively and we have a limited capacity for short-term mechanization. Crop fragility, coupled with high value per hectare, increases the financial risks in the event of damage. Also, production is very diversified in terms of the number and variety of products. We have businesses of all sizes, mostly small, and members across Quebec. Fruit and vegetable producers provide an essential service to the public.
Our businesses are faced with many production risks beyond their control that make financial stability difficult, such as the risks associated with unstable and unpredictable weather, risks from pests, which are increasing due to climate change, and a workforce that comes from outside.
The business environment also brings its share of risks. We face fierce competition from imports, which very often come from countries that do not have the same rules as we do, whether it is in terms of labour, regulations or other factors. Canada's increasingly burdensome regulatory environment meets Canadians' expectations, but it imposes an additional cost that consumers are not prepared to pay. Some countries also have non-tariff barriers to imports, which are found in negotiated trade agreements as well. Finally, a tense political climate can upset the market from one day to the next.
To deal with these many production and business risks, producers need a suite of risk management programs that is up to the task. Currently, businesspeople are being asked to seed and plant to feed Canadians and to take on a large part of the risk.
This year, with the pandemic, fruit and vegetable growers have repeatedly asked the government for clear support and the announcement of revised risk management programs so that they can launch their season with confidence, despite all the uncertainties. To date, nothing has happened. We are on our own. They have told us to use existing programs and enrol in AgriStability, while acknowledging that the program is not adequate or up to par. Produce growers who have decided to answer the call to feed Canada have put the financial security of their businesses and their family assets at risk. This is simply not acceptable.
The main program, AgriStability, no longer meets our needs since the major cuts in 2013. This is evidenced by the fact that only 31% of producers have enrolled in AgriStability, despite the fact that the need for risk management mechanisms has never been greater. Although all stakeholders, both government and producers, agree on this point, nothing is being done to improve it. In the meantime, producers are bearing the brunt of the risk. In Quebec we do have the Agri-Québec Plus program, but it is very limited in terms of insurable amounts and does not make up for the weaknesses in AgriStability.
The AgriInsurance program is not available for all crops. In addition, it is not the same across Canada, as it is administered by each province. For example, in Quebec, we have the concept of “normal loss,” which the other provinces don't have and which penalizes producers.
Let me give you another example. On May 12, Ottawa asked the provinces to include labour shortages as an eligible risk for the horticultural industry. To date, no province has responded, preferring to rely on AgriStability.
We are being told to use the money from the AgriInvest accounts, which is part of the equity of the company. The money is used for investments for growth, new equipment and adaptation to various regulations. It's a kind of nest egg for our producers.
“One-size-fits-all” programs do not adequately address all sectors of agriculture. It is essential that the needs of each production be taken into account when designing programs, regardless of the size or type of business.
Fruit and vegetable production is essential to feeding Canadians. Producers must keep their selling prices at levels that allow Canadian consumers to eat fresh fruit and vegetables while also assuming ever-increasing production costs. Furthermore, all this is happening at a time when the financial risks are not adequately covered.
I'm going to ask Mr. St-Denis to take over.