Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate tonight. Member after member has stood in the House and pointed out that there is a tragic crisis in the agricultural community, and no one in the House, no one who has spent time with agricultural people, will deny that. We certainly need to make some changes. We need to move that agenda very rapidly and we need short term and long term solutions for that crisis.
A safe and abundant food supply that is very cheap is clearly one of the joys that we in Canada share. The agriculture and agrifood industry plays an enormous role in the daily living of every Canadian. The agriculture and agrifood industry is the third largest employer in Canada, generating about $95 billion in domestic, retail and food service sales each year and $22 billion in exports.
Indeed, the agriculture and agrifood industry holds a significant place in our country's economy. That is why the current state of this industry—and its future—is an extremely important issue for all people in Canada. Every Canadian must pay careful attention to what is happening.
Canadian farmers boast an impressive record despite the distressed economic situation they are facing. Farming has always been a risky business, but never more so than today. Low commodity prices, adverse weather, high input costs and overproduction due to high subsidies in the United States and the European Union are causing great hardship for our Canadian farmers. This is particularly the case for our grains and oilseeds producers, who have experienced significant income declines due to circumstances far beyond their control.
Prices paid to Ontario and other Canadian farmers for sales of most Ontario grains and oilseed crops have been near their lowest historic levels in value. In real dollars, they are lower in the last four years than in any historic past. This is a direct result of government policies in western Europe and the United States. We are told that a crop farmer in Ontario growing a typical balance of corn, soybeans and wheat receives less than half as much government support as he or she would receive from growing identical crops just a few miles south of my riding, in the United States. This is the reality my local farmers face.
Since December 20, the price of corn has dropped 10 cents to 13 cents a bushel. Soybeans are down 82 cents to 84 cents a bushel. Fuel and fertilizer costs are up. Last summer ammonium nitrate was $300 a metric tonne and now it is $345. The price of urea has increased from $300 to $450. Local property taxes are forecasted to increase. Farmers are having difficulty obtaining bank loans and banks will start foreclosure. In fact, news of foreclosures has already been splashed across the media in my area.
Farmers are wondering if they can even plant their crops this year, and the level of frustration among farmers is reaching a peak.
The approach the federal government has taken so far involves short term and long term measures. To respond to the farmers' immediate needs, emergency assistance has been put in place, first in 1998 and again last July. We worked hard to implement a three year $3.3 billion federal plan for agricultural incomes. This approach includes an outgoing income disaster program, which Canadian farmers called for. Annual funding for safety nets now committed by the federal government is almost double what it was before this agreement.
Over the past five years the federal government has spent approximately $13 billion in support of the agrifood sector, but immediate cash shortfalls and assistance programs are only part of the solution. At present, they are not helping our farm community as much as our farm community needs. Several members of the House have made it very clear a cash injection at this time is imperative. There is no question that we need to make sure there is some stability in that agricultural sector here in this country now. I think that is extremely important.
We also have to realize that we need to go onto the international scene, as many members of the House have said and certainly as the farm communities have said. We all want forms of agricultural support subsidies eliminated. Support subsidies in Europe, in the United States and in other countries that compete with our farmers cripple our farmers if our farmers do not get the same supports. If we try to raise our supports, we will just have a spiralling roof which will make it impossible to have reasonable prices for commodities.
Our farm communities have said very carefully that they do not want subsidies, they want fairness. They want good prices for their products. Cheap food is a reality in Canada, but we have not supported our agricultural producers who are producing that cheap food in the way we need to. The sooner the better, the minister has said, let us get rid of these subsidies. Let us not just go on a cheap food policy, but let us stop international dumping at low costs. Everyone gets hurt when it is an internationally subsidized crop. Clear rules are needed to prevent the forms of export assistance from becoming subsidies for export.
The same goes for domestic forms of assistance that can be as trade distorting as export subsidies. If world prices that are already too low are being driven down by these unfair practices, if these practices are hurting our farmers and farmers in the majority of other agriculture producing countries, these practices should be curtailed and eliminated. Rules that apply equally to all are an important part of a trade equation. Trade rules that are open, secure and predictable, as well as fair and level, are the key to ensuring that agricultural policies of this country and all other countries are fair.
That is why I am pleased to hear the Prime Minister recently state that we must address the subsidy problem, that our farmers should be able to compete on a level playing field. The subsidy wars are of no interest or help to Canadians. This is a battle Canada must win. Positioning the Canadian agriculture and agrifood sector strategically for the long term is an important element in helping Canadian farmers achieve stability, profitability and long term support.
That is why I was equally pleased to see that agriculture was mentioned in the recent throne speech and that the government will help Canada's agricultural sector move beyond crisis management.
I could not agree more. It is time the Government of Canada and Canadian farmers moved beyond the crisis management mode and worked together. I support the government's efforts to support this vital industry. However, we must commit to doing even more for our farmers at this time, especially those in the grain and oilseed sectors.
We need to do everything possible to help farmers who put food on our tables through this difficult period. We need to close the gap and put farmers on a fair and equal footing. That is what farmers want; that is what the government must do; and that is what I have heard from every member of the House who stood today.
We need to recognize very clearly the agricultural crisis. It is important to thousands of families across the land who do not farm. It is important to the sectors of society that sell goods to farmers. It is important to the sectors of society that use farm products. It is important to the sectors of society that are helped by this thriving industry.
Let us not forget that this basic industry has been the foundation for Canada's development in the past and in the present. It will be the industry of the future that will ensure the well-being of Canadians.