Good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of this committee.
I am Jack Froese, the president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association. I farm at Winkler, Manitoba. Thank you for inviting me here today to speak with you about Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act.
CCGA is a national association governed by a board of farmer directors who represent the voice of Canada's 43,000 canola farmers from Ontario west to British Columbia. In any given year, over 90% of Canadian canola, in the form of raw seed or the processed products of canola oil or canola meal, is ultimately destined for export markets in more than 50 countries. We are the world's largest exporter of this highly valued oilseed.
Canola farmers critically rely on rail transportation to move our products to customers and keep those products price-competitive within the global oilseed market. Farmers occupy a unique position in this grain supply chain, and that is what fundamentally differentiates this supply chain from other commodities. Farmers are not the legal shippers, but we bear the cost of transport as it is reflected in the price we are offered for our products from the buyers of our grains and oilseeds, who are the shippers.
Simply put, farmers do not book the train or the boat, but they pay for it. Transportation and logistics costs, whatever they might be at a point in time, are passed back and paid for by the farmer.
Farmers independently strive to maximize both the quantity and quality of their production each year. Once harvested, they sell their grain into the system, based on their particular marketing plan, with the overall goal of capturing the highest possible prices at a given time in a dynamic and ever-fluctuating global commodity market.
Transportation of grain is one of several commercial elements that directly affect the price offered to farmers in the country. When issues arise in the supply chain, the price that farmers receive for their grain can drop even at times when commodity prices might be high in the global marketplace.
In periods of prolonged disruptions, space in grain elevators becomes full and grain companies stop buying grain and accepting deliveries. This can occur even when the farmer has an existing contract for delivery, seriously affecting farmers' ability to cash flow their operations. This is a major reason that western Canadian farmers have such an interest in transportation. It directly affects personal farmer income, and beyond that, they critically rely on the service of Canada's railways to move grain to export position. We have no alternative.
It is a complex system, transporting western Canadian grains an average distance of 1,520 kilometres from the Prairies to tidewater, but we need to make it work to the benefit of all parties and the broader national economy as a whole.
The competitiveness and reliability of the canola industry, which currently contributes over $26 billion annually to the Canadian economy, is highly dependent on this supply chain providing timely, efficient, and reliable service. In terms of direct impact on Canadian farmers, canola has been the number one source of farm revenue from crops every year for over a decade. It is a major contributor to grain farmers' profitability.
The 2016-17 crop year that just passed at the end of July set new record levels of canola exports and domestic value-added processing. Strong performance by the railways absolutely supported this achievement. Overall, it was a banner year for railway movement of grain and its products.
That stated, we need to remain future-oriented when we consider public policy changes. The last several years of reasonably good overall total movement and relative fluidity of the supply chain should not lessen our focus on seeking to improve, as fundamental issues still exist beneath the short-term positive headlines.
Spring 2017 saw a record level of canola planted in Canada, the largest single field crop in the country, for the first time surpassing wheat. The most recent, late August, government estimates of production for this fall is 18.2 million tonnes, down slightly from last year due to challenging weather, but still surpassing the five-year average by over one million tonnes.
We are an optimistic and goal-oriented industry with a record of achieving success. When we look forward to 2025, we see demand for our products rising further, both domestically and internationally. In this future, rail transportation will be even more important as our industry strives to reach our strategic goal of Canadian farmers sustainably producing 26 million tonnes of canola every year.
To support this, Canadian farmers and the industry will need an effective and responsive rail transportation system, not just for transportation of the current crop sizes but for those of the future. Moreover, farmers will not be able to capitalize on the opportunities from Canada's existing and future trade agreements without a reliable and efficient rail system that grain shippers and our global customers have confidence in. That is a key point: with such a strong reliance on exports, we do need to remain cognizant of the customer service aspect of our export orientation in the agricultural sector.
Canadian canola and other grains are well known for their quality characteristics and sustainable supply, which are market differentiators. But at the end of the day, they remain fungible commodities, and alternatives exist. The reliability of our transportation system affects buyers' confidence in the global Canadian brand. We know, because we hear directly about it.
For the remaining comments, I'll defer to Steve Pratte.