Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin third reading debate today with regard to Bill C-25, which amends the Farm Credit Corporation Act of 1993. These amendments would enable Farm Credit Corporation to continue its tradition of anticipating the changing needs of agriculture with innovative products and services. The main focus of the FCC remains the same: to save and work with Canadian farm families.
Canadian farmers are well known for their resourcefulness, flexibility and determination to succeed in the long term. They need a financial institution that shows the same flexibility and commitment to change with their evolving needs.
For 41 years Farm Credit Corporation has been the national financial institution that has consistently identified emerging needs, specifically, to work with and save Canadian family farms and farm families as well as to introduce needed services to address the gaps wherever they are in agriculture.
These new amendments would allow FCC to continue this tradition. The federal government has created these amendments to ensure the continued relevancy of the act. It is very relevant to all of these family farms. After review by the standing committee, the amendments remain unchanged. I will briefly review the major amendments.
The first amendment would change the name of Farm Credit Corporation to farm credit Canada. In French it would change from Société du crédit agricole to Financement agricole Canada. This change reflects the corporation's mandate to serve rural Canada as a federal crown. Adding the word Canada to the corporation's name also demonstrates the federal government's ongoing commitment to rural Canadians.
Another key amendment would allow FCC to offer business services to producers either directly or through partnerships. Producers would have access to the broad range of business services they need to succeed in a competitive environment. The new legislation would enable FCC to offer equity financing to producers and farm related businesses. Many farming and farm related operations need access to equity as well as term financing. In fact, rural communities cannot develop local value added agricultural industries without venture and equity capital.
An important amendment to the act would allow FCC to provide financial services to farm related businesses that benefit agriculture. Currently the corporation can lend only to businesses that are majority farmer owned. By extending services to more farm related businesses, FCC would help rural economies grow and would create jobs in rural communities. These are the key amendments directly impacting producers and farm related business.
Before beginning the amendments process, I asked FCC to consult the industry it serves, and I know the minister worked with it too. It is amazing, but the corporation really did its work. It met with more than 100 agricultural and financial industry groups last year to get their input. It met with more than 400 people to talk about what the bill would deliver to Canadian farm and farm families.
In general, the agricultural groups consulted were very supportive of the proposed changes. However, some producer organizations expressed the concern that FCC should continue to concentrate on serving the needs of producers. As a result, we created an amendment specifically to address this concern. The amendment states that the primary producers would continue to be the main focus of FCC's activities. Again, we consulted with producer groups in developing this amendment.
The corporation has a long tradition of consulting the agricultural industry to identify the needs. When the Canadian Federation of Agriculture told FCC that beginning farmers need more financial options, FCC listened. In 1998 it introduced agri-start loans to help young farm families build successful farming operations. The lending volume in the past few years tells us that agri-start addresses a real and compelling need. Since it was first introduced agri-start has generated almost 1,300 loans at a value of $134 million.
In 1999, a hog producer near Brandon, Manitoba came to FCC with an idea and FCC listened. Why not offer a lending product that allows hog producers flexible payment options so they can make it through the price downturns in the industry that exist today? To address this identified need, FCC designed the flexi-hog loan last spring. Since then, lending for this loan has amounted to $20 million.
In the year 2000, many Quebec producers signed up for a provincial subsidy program to help them adapt their waste management facilities to meet current environmental standards. FCC created the enviro-loan, which enables producers to make the upgrades and pay off the loan when they receive the subsidy at the end of the project. The enviro-loan is now available across Canada.
At FCC innovation is not confined to products and services. FCC is at the forefront of a growing movement in agriculture to enter partnerships to give customers more comprehensive solutions.
In the past several years FCC has built a network of 27 partners to offer more comprehensive financial packages to producers and to farm related businesses. FCC works with agriculture based businesses including input suppliers, livestock brokers and a national network of equipment dealers. FCC partners with public sector financial institutions such as the Business Development Bank of Canada and the Alberta Financial Services Corporation. The corporation also works with private sector institutions such as credit unions and is very successful with this across the country.
In March FCC announced an innovative partnership with private and public sector organizations to help farmers with life cycle planning. AgriSuccess is a joint initiative that offers seminars and online information to help producers to address long term planning issues. The initiative increases access to business planning services throughout rural Canada.
The amendments we are discussing today would position FCC to continue in its role as a catalyst and innovator. Through FCC, producers and farm related businesses would be able to access the range of services they require no matter where they live in rural Canada.
FCC recognizes that the future of farming is linked to the growth of the value added sector in agriculture. This new legislation would position FCC to support the future growth of this sector.
The spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is alive and well in agriculture today. What the industry requires is a financial institution that understands the needs of agriculture and acts as a partner to support future growth and success. Certainly, as one of the farmers here in this Chamber is saying, part of this success is due to the people who work for FCC in the more than 100 offices across the country. These people most often have farm related backgrounds and are very close to their communities.
FCC has served that purpose for 41 years. These amendments would help ensure that FCC continues to contribute relevant solutions to agriculture for many years to come.