Mr. Speaker, we are here today debating a motion brought forward by the official opposition to deal with the requirements of CAIS to provide farmers upfront with some money to get involved. I want to switch a bit and bring forward some other issues that have been brought to my attention over the last number of months and deal with the grain and oilseed section of our agricultural community.
The facts are there for all of us to see. Over the last 30 years there has been a steady decline in returns to agriculture. Agriculture has gone from a high of approximately 30 years ago of over $4 billion in a year of returns to farmers at a time when the accumulated debt of the agriculture community was very small, to last year when the entire agriculture community actually lost money and the accumulated debt in the agriculture sector has become absolutely huge.
This indication of rising debt and lower returns clearly indicates that there is a problem, which has been going on for some time, and that nothing that has been brought forward to date has helped to reverse that.
I would like to mention the BSE issue. The BSE crisis in the cattle industry has taken hundreds of millions of dollars out of Canada and out of the pockets of primary producers and that is money that we will never get back. From the time the border opens to the time we get back to a normal cattle industry, it will be business as usual, but those lost revenues over the last two years are forever lost.
I want to mention the CFIA. CFIA officials gave us a briefing yesterday on their actions to date on the BSE investigations and trace outs. However I believe they must be very cautious in how they proceed. Every word they say is listened to by producers in Canada because it affects the markets. It is also listened to by producers across the border in the United States, producers working to keep the border closed. I indicated to CFIA officials yesterday that they should be very cautious in what they say and the timing of it.
This week the National Cattlemen's Beef Association is holding its annual meeting in San Antonio. It will be addressing the issue of opening the border to Canadian cattle on March 7. So far the NCBA has stayed on side and I hope it stays that way. It has been in Canada and has looked at our systems. It has been on our farms. It realizes what we have done up here as far as our feed ban is concerned, how we are processing our cattle, how we are tracing our cattle and the fact that our health regulations have been top notch, and therefore there is no scientific reason to keep the border closed. I hope it stays on science.
One of the issues that was brought to me, which I was not completely aware of beforehand, has to do with the Canadian Grain Commission. We are all familiar with the issue of bonding but the other issue of grading is the one I wish to get into.
When producers sell their grain through a licensed and bonded grain dealer, it is the responsibility of the Canadian Grain Commission to make sure that business has enough bonding in place to cover the exposure that the primary producer has when he sells his grain. That is not happening.
A couple of grain companies in my riding have gone broke and, as a result, the producer has been stuck for the value of his commodity. Recently some were paid 25¢ on the $1 for what they were owed. One-quarter of what they thought they had coming to them does not do it. This is just another problem facing producers. They felt they were covered with respect to this bonding issue because the Canadian Grain Commission was supposed to monitor it but they now find out they are not covered.
The other issue I want to mention is grading. I understand there is a difference in the way grain is being graded today as compared to the way it was traditionally done. This is called falling numbers, which actually deals with how wheat is processed and then baked into bread. As this transition takes place, somewhere in the middle the producer is stuck with a lower grade than his grain actually is. In some cases, we could be talking 80¢ to a $1 a bushel. In any operation that is a difference between making it and not making it. That issue needs to be addressed and can be addressed quite easily.
I understand the grain commission is looking at changing the way it bonds licensed grain sellers and buyers. That is a positive move but it has to be done quickly. The people who are presently being stuck by not getting their paycheques for their grain are out of luck. We should move quickly to change that so producers are protected.
On the grading issue, if a producer is losing revenue because of a grading change then that should be stopped immediately and the producer should automatically be given the highest grading possible.
Another issue I mentioned to the minister this morning was the issue of the European Union going back to heavily subsidizing its grain production. Two million tonnes of wheat will receive export subsidies, plus it will be giving subsidies for internal growth. That distorts production, distorts the world market and will further drive commodity prices down for our producers.
When these people come to us as members of Parliament expressing their concern that they do not see any way out of this issue, that is where they are. They have looked at all the options. They have looked at futures, at different commodities and at different farming practices. They have tried everything but returns to the agricultural community continue to decline. The numbers are there to indicate that is happening and nothing that has been done to date has helped to change that.
The other issue is the European Union and the U.S. making bilateral agreements between the two of them. If they continue to do that, this puts Canada out on the edge and not involved. The WTO's Doha round was one of the hopes that we had in the agriculture community, that if this did go through, if countries were forced to give up their export subsidies and their production distorting domestic subsidies then we would start to see some sanity come back to the grain market, but that is not happening. With the EU and the U.S. working against what is going on in the WTO, the chances of our producers seeing any more returns for their commodities is non-existent. Any hope that we had in that avenue as far as the WTO is concerned in my mind is gone because it is starting to fall apart.
Our government, our negotiators and the ag minister have to be very forceful when we are dealing with these big trade organizations so that we get what we need to keep our producers going. So far we have not done that. I think being more forceful at the negotiating table is a big part of where we need to go to help stabilize the industry.
The minister talked about the APF, the agricultural policy framework, and how that is supposed to help the agriculture community down the road. We have heard talk about repositioning the cattle industry. Discussions are ongoing and the parliamentary secretary has been across Canada to receive input. I see that as just more talk and that has not been delivering the results needed.
I believe the suggestion we brought forward today is a concrete step that can be taken to immediately put some infusion of cash into an area that is badly needed. It is the farmers' own money that we are saying should not be taken from them. The money should be left with them.
Some of these issues may seem trivial to many but they are not trivial to the six or seven young grain and oil seed farmers with whom I spoke. They were in the 40 to 50 year old range, and in our farming community those are young farmers. They told me that the revenue cap was exceeded by the CPR this year by some $300,000, and somewhere along the line the CPR has to give that money back and they have to pay a penalty on it, but it goes to the Western Grains Research Foundation. These folks told to me that that money should go back to the producers, and when they sell their grain, in order for them not to have an automatic deduction on their grain sales that goes to the grain research foundation, it is a negative option billing that exists. They have to notify the grain commissioner or the Canadian Wheat Board that they do not want to pay that, and if they do not notify them they pay it. These are not huge dollars but this is the point to which these people are trying to operate and the pennies they are chasing to keep them on the farm.
The other issue is the initial payment and trying to increase the initial payment from the Canadian Wheat Board when they sell their grain through the board. They want the payments to get out quicker and the percentages to be higher so they have more cash.
The producers are also worried about the freight charges. When anybody who sells grain on the Prairies through the Canadian Wheat Board receives that cheque and a deduction is made for the freight to get it to the coast, it takes over one- third of that cheque just to pay it. They are talking about the Crow rate again. The Crow rate is gone but maybe there is something else that we need to look at? Is there another way to keep more money where it belongs?
The producers are not asking for government programs or handouts. They are asking that they be allowed to keep more of what they have earned, that more of the value of the grain can end up in their pockets. The value of the grain certainly needs to be higher in order for this to be sustainable. Right now, if grain is selling for $3 a bushel, the producers are saying that they need more of that $3 in their pocket at the end of the sale so they can keep operating.
I look forward to the rest of the debate today and I appreciate the opportunity that the Leader of the Opposition and our agriculture critic has given the House to debate agriculture.