Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak again about farming in this country, particularly in my own region of Sault Ste. Marie and East Algoma, because there is a crisis. I would say that as a result of that crisis what we are speaking to here today is trying to put in place some small measure that would help save the future of the family farm.
However, even though we can support this motion and we will, I do not think it goes far enough to really restructure the whole farm industry so that it becomes a viable economic sector in our country once more.
I think that we have to look at our own experiences of meeting with farmers in our particular constituencies and our regions. When we sit down with them and hear from them, we hear the desperation and the pain in their voices today as they speak about their future, the investments they have made, the investments they have lost and the hopelessness they feel. In turn, they are passing that hopelessness on to their children. It is not often done by direct conversation, but the children look at the hard work that goes into farming, at the 24/7 commitment and at the investment made, for so little return anymore.
If there is anything we can do in this place to make it more profitable to move the farm on from one generation to the other, we certainly should be doing it. That is why I will support any initiative here which will move in that direction.
In the few minutes I have today, I want to talk about the situation that confronts farmers out there, both in my own region of East Algoma and across this country. The fact is that farming today, like so many of our other economic sectors, is being taken over by fewer and fewer corporate interests, which have seemingly no interest--and I do not understand this--in the profitability or the success of the small family producer. They are more interested in the bigger operations where they can squeeze every ounce of profit out of everybody and everything and every resource that is involved in farming, for their own profit margin but certainly not for the profit margin of the farmers themselves.
I want to speak for just a few minutes and put into the context of this discussion an article that was in Straight Goods magazine just recently, written by Dennis Gruending, a member of this place at one time. He titled his article this way: “Agri-food industry very profitable, but producers have to find day jobs”. That is the conundrum that farmers find themselves in.
Today we are talking about passing on the family farm to the next generation, to our children who, more and more, are going to school so they can better themselves and take a more learned approach to that which they do for a livelihood and an income. They look at what their parents are doing and see their parents working as much as they can in the early morning and late evening to keep the farm going, and then they see them going off to someplace else in the town or the city during the day to earn a little money so they can keep bread on the table, continue to pay for the energy to heat the house in the winter, and clothe themselves. All of that does not look very attractive.
What Dennis Gruending focused on in his article was a report that this government should actually be very interested in, although he says in this article that this report has actually been archived. It is the report written by one of the Liberals, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food (Rural Development), a person who at one point was a farmer and thus knows this industry very intimately. To give him as much credit as possible, let me note that he travelled this country to sit in farmers' kitchens and community centres to talk to farmers across this country. I would say that what he found was very disappointing and alarming.
After looking at the situation that confronts many farmers, he said that food processing, for example, earned a 12% average return between 1990 and 1998 and was more profitable than the manufacturing sector, with an 8% rate of return, and food retailers averaged a return of 12% between 1990 and 1998. Yet the average farmer was losing between $10,000 and $20,000 a year in that time period.
I have spoken to some of the farmers in my area of East Algoma. They tell me, particularly with the impact of the closing of the border on beef farming and BSE, that they have lost about three generations of equity in their operations. I talked to another farmer who said that he had now probably lost between $150,000 and $200,000 over the last three years.
How long can farmers continue like that? How can we expect children to be interested in the family farm if that is the reality confronting them? Who wants to take on a losing enterprise or operation? I do not think many people are lining up for that.
What recommendations has the parliamentary secretary's report made, and Dennis Gruending through his article? He says that we need to limit the market power of corporations in concentrated industries by restructuring the Competition Bureau and strengthening the Competition Act. The impact of corporate consolidation on the producer can be taken into account. He also says that Ottawa should take a balanced approach to international trade negotiations, recognizing the legitimacy of some subsidies while stressing the importance of free trade. He says that we should defend the interests of Canadian producers.
I remember talking about supply management in the House just a few months ago. Dairy farmers were in attendance in the visitors gallery. They told us that they felt very much abandoned and alone in this fight. They want the government to recognize and understand the challenges they face and to stand with them shoulder to shoulder in trade disputes, discussions and negotiations. They want the government to defend the interests of those in the country who simply want to make a living by working hard and investing that which is necessary to be successful. They have been confronting this growing wall. There is a concentration of corporate ownership and an international trade regime that does not seem to understand the challenges of Canadian farmers, and the government does not want to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
The parliamentary secretary's report says that we need to defend the interests of Canadian producers, including an aggressive defence of supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board. It also goes on to say that government should encourage and support the intergenerational transfer of farms as a key factor in maintaining the viability of rural communities, which is what we are talking about today. We are talking about putting in place vehicles and support mechanisms that will make it more viable and lucrative when a farm is passed on so children do not have to suffer because of the difficult times and challenges of parents.
To put a fine point on the reality of the whole issue of the concentration of ownership and control of the agriculture industry in Canada, let us take a look at what the parliamentary secretary found and reported in his report. For example, Cargill controls about 50% of the Canadian beef packing capacity. Just two companies, Cargill and Tyson, control 80% of capacity. We need to do something about that. We need to reorganize and restructure the way the food business works so more money stays in the hands of the person who produces it in the first place, which is the farmer. If we did that, it would be easier to pass the farm on to the next generation.
Three companies retail and distribute the bulk of Canadian oil, gasoline and diesel. I spoke about the concentration in the Canadian oil business and how the price of oil from time to time goes through the roof, which impacts on sectors like farming. Three companies dominate the farm machinery sector, four companies mill most of our flour, three make our soft drinks and six control food retail.
If the government is serious about the future of the family farm and wants to see it passed on from one generation to another, it has to stand shoulder to shoulder with the small producer and challenge the powers that be and restructure it in a way that gives back some of the profitable returns made by others in the industry to the farmers themselves.