Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the committee. We appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today.
My name is Mary Robinson, and I farm. Mine is a sixth-generation family farm in P.E.I., and I am the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the largest general farm organization in Canada.
I would like to start by thanking and acknowledging the work of Canadian governments, at all levels. Public servants and elected officials have been working 24-7 to help Canadians and keep us safe during these difficult times. The federal government has designed and executed many programs for both business and Canadian individuals. We are talking today about how we can bring this ingenuity and commitment to ensure an adequate food supply and support for our farmers.
The first wave of COVID-19 has exposed Canada's food access weaknesses as potential disasters. If there is a second wave in the coming months or if there is a similar pandemic in the years ahead and we have not addressed the food supply issues we are here to discuss, we risk economic and human tragedy.
As leaders, we have an obligation to plan for the worst and strive for the best. These coming days and weeks are critical if we are to ensure that Canada's domestic food supply is secure, both now and into the future.
Farmers go to work every day with the goal of putting quality food on the tables of all Canadians. Canadians take this for granted, and they should. Canadian farmers do not let Canadians down.
However, COVID has put Canada's food production, supply chain and food access in danger, and the food crisis is likely to worsen over the coming months if further action is not taken on an urgent basis. The CFA is calling for an emergency preparedness plan that gives farmers confidence to overcome these challenges, targeting investments in a number of key areas.
First and most immediate is emergency funding to address critical food supply challenges, enabling immediate targeted programming to help affected sectors address these unprecedented challenges. CFA conducted a survey of agriculture commodity organizations across Canada more than two weeks ago now, which at that time identified $2.6 billion in financial impacts that pose urgent threats to the supply of food and the viability of farm operations across Canada. Given the rapid evolution of this crisis, the scope and scale of these impacts have only increased.
Second is that this crisis is telling us that now is the time to wake up and get Canada's BRM suite of programs right for producers to adequately respond to the unique challenges posed by this global pandemic. Farmers need the confidence that they will receive the support they need from AgriStability to keep on farming if they see significant financial losses. The BRM suite was never designed to deal with this kind of crisis, and now is the time to get it right. The next time we may see an even bigger food crisis in Canada.
Finally, further measures are needed to encourage Canadians to work on farms and in Canada's food-processing plants. This includes financial incentives but also, just as critically, prioritizing access to PPE, second only to health, to ensure that all agri-food workers feel safe coming to work.
Food systems around the world are under duress from unprecedented challenges and untenable operating conditions, with supply chain disruptions, lost markets and labour uncertainty threatening many agri-food supply chains around the world. Recently, the UN warned that the world is “facing multiple famines of biblical proportions”, with COVID pushing an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation.
Canadians and consumers around the world have always been able to depend on Canada's farmers to grow food, but today Canadian farmers are asking for immediate assistance from our federal government to be able to continue fulfilling that responsibility. Without it, Canadian consumers can expect to see decreased quantity and variety of food at their local grocery stores, as well as higher prices in the months ahead, while undermining our capacity to export and assist in meeting the impending global food security crisis.
Regardless of the economic plight facing so many people during this truly global crisis, everyone strives to eat three meals a day. Canada's farmers want to do everything they can to assist by providing access to the full breadth of affordable, quality Canadian food products.
Achieving this goal requires Canada's farmers and food businesses to overcome unforeseen obstacles, exorbitant new costs and immense uncertainty in the coming months. Painting a single picture of these challenges is difficult, as Canadian agriculture is an incredibly diverse industry, with hundreds of different commodities produced in regions across Canada.
However, in the face of this unprecedented crisis, it is also a significant challenge, as one-size-fits-all solutions are incapable of addressing the diversity of issues that arise. We have witnessed the loss of food service markets for fish, mushroom and potato farmers, just to name a few, who have seen markets evaporate overnight and now face the prospect of surpluses, sunk costs and reduced production. We continue to see uncertain access to labour, forcing horticulture farmers to make difficult decisions about how much they will plant, if they will at all this year, or whether they will have the workforce they need throughout the season to see those products go to market.
We continue to see the disruption of downstream supply chain partners, as we've seen across a number of livestock-processing facilities, driving increased costs and reduced markets and raising the spectre of animal welfare concerns and depopulation for many of Canada's livestock farmers, a truly regrettable last resort. Meanwhile, farmers across Canada, much like our partners in food processing, are taking on exorbitant costs and reduced efficiencies to maintain critical public health measures while being price-takers with no ability to pass those costs along.
Despite this diversity, we hear an all-too-common story from farmers looking for COVID-related relief. They are ineligible for support. Whether it's lumpy revenue that fails to see farmers qualify for the wage subsidy, operating structures that preclude them from accessing the Canada emergency business account, or the responsibility of being critical infrastructure and producing an absolutely essential good that limits them from seeking the Canada emergency response benefit, these existing measures do not respond to the urgent challenges they face in putting food on the tables of Canadians.
When it comes to the agriculture measures made available, we would first like to note our continued appreciation for the government in acting so quickly to provide farmers with access to urgently needed temporary foreign workers. We know that this work continues to this day. Saying that, looming shortages of work permits still hold the potential to undermine the successful entry of workers to date, leaving farmers facing continued uncertainty.
Furthermore, we were pleased to see the government quickly take steps towards addressing liquidity in the sector through FCC and the advance payments program. However, the unfortunate reality for many Canadian farmers is that they are not in a position to take on additional debt in the face of such uncertainty. Following on the most recent announcements, we're pleased to see the steps taken to help address a number of issues identified above, but based on dialogue with the affected sectors, they are inadequate to respond to the scope and scale of the challenges they attempt to address.
When it comes to business risk management, I look at the collaborative efforts of all levels of governments and what they have undertaken in mobilizing their resources to tackle the unprecedented health crisis posed by COVID. I applaud all orders of government in their continued efforts to protect Canadians' health, demonstrating what can be accomplished in the face of urgent challenges when we work together.
However, maintaining and restoring Canada's agri-food supply chains to full capacity must be the leading priority behind the direct public health impacts of COVID. Yet when farmers call for a collaborative FPT approach to address essential food production, farmers are told to look to existing BRM programs that farmers have for years identified as inadequate. They were never designed to respond to this kind of unprecedented crisis spanning the entire Canadian farm and food sector and posing such acute challenges to the Canadian food supply.
In conclusion, Canadian farmers take pride in the fact that every day we feed Canadians. Every bite of food you have today and have had every day of your life started on a farm. Like most sectors of the Canadian economy, farmers have felt the tremendous pain brought about by the unprecedented nature of COVID.
We will always work as partners with government to make nutritious and affordable food available to all Canadians.
I thank you for your time and welcome any questions you may have.