Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the bill today, the amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act, particularly so in view of the comments I just heard from my colleague in the Reform Party. I shall be splitting my time with my colleague from Dauphin-Swan River.
As the minister said earlier the amendment will allow a check-off to Canadian Wheat Board sales of wheat in the four western provinces and of barley sales in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
There are two very good reasons the bill deserves the support of all in the House. The amendments will pave the way for an additional $4.7 million annually in research funding, specifically in the area of plant breeding. I raise for the consideration of the House why the Reform Party would favour a long consultation process with the farm groups that are already supporting these amendments which would delay that kind of valuable research. It makes no sense to me because we already have grassroots support for the initiative.
Second and more important, and it ties into the point I was just making, Bill C-50 is a result of a specific request by the grain industry. The speedy response of our government to the request recognizes the importance of such research initiatives as well as the fact that no longer can government solely be relied on for research. Results can be achieved only through strategic alliances with industry.
My riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt includes a portion of the city of Saskatoon and a large rural area. It is an urban rural split of about 60:40 respectively. In fact this time last year I spent many hours on the road driving around the farm area of my riding during the election campaign. I remember stopping along the road north of Domremy to talk to a couple of farmers. I guess the Reform Party would call that consulting with the farmers on
their views. Lawrence and André Georget took a moment to tell me some of their concerns.
Just last week I had a most enjoyable and informative half-hour meeting with one of the Canadian Wheat Board representatives from my province of Saskatchewan. We discussed many things, including the check-off provisions which are under discussion today. That fellow made the point, and I think it is a good one, that the additional research that will be carried out as a result of these amendments will benefit not just the producers but all Canadians. All Canadians will have the benefit of better credit as a result of increased research funding.
How did this check-off scheme come about? It should be noted that the Western Grains Research Foundation, made up of 12 prairie farm organizations, asked the government to enact legislation that would enable producers to invest a portion of their own profits into plant breeding research.
The Western Grains Research Foundation is accountable directly to the producers as well as the federal government for the way in which research funds are spent. Producers believe that plant breeding research will help find new varieties and, in turn, enable the industry to maintain and increase its market share. All of this, for a farmer's investment of about half a cent a bushel or 20 cents a tonne.
Another interesting point is that studies have shown the return on investment in agricultural research can be more than 50 per cent. In the case of the legislation before the House this could translate into an extra $400 million to prairie farmers annually. That is because research and plant breeding has a potential to lead the development of varieties that are 15 per cent higher yielding and equal in protein content to existing varieties.
This brings me to another point. As I noted in my opening remarks, my riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt includes a large rural area as well as approximately one-third of the city of Saskatoon. That one-third of the city of Saskatoon includes the University of Saskatchewan and our College of Agriculture, which was one of the founding colleges in 1907 and enjoys a stellar reputation in the area of agricultural research.
Just north of the university in the lovely area along the South Saskatchewan River bank we have Innovation Place, a business research cluster whose focus is biotechnological research, development and commercialization. Hence my particular delight in having an opportunity to speak to the bill before the House today.
Producers know that research is vital to our agricultural industry. They know that their future livelihood depends on their ability to grow crops which will meet the shifting demands of the marketplace. Producers know as well that unless they start investing in research they risk lagging behind their competitors.
Farmers in Australia, United States and the European Union have been taking a direct role in renewing plant breeding programs in wheat and barley for years. In the United States over 15 states have check-offs on wheat. These are made at the state level and are deducted at first point of sale. The check-offs are generally voluntary and enjoy a high level of participation as we anticipate this will be. The Australian wheat board has had a non-voluntary levy in place for the past five years.
I mentioned partnerships between government and industry in my opening remarks. The industry strongly supports Bill C-50. This producer initiative has enjoyed broad industry support in its development and it will continue to do so, supporting a form of 12 prairie farm organizations that make up the Western Grains Research Foundation.
Perhaps not everyone is aware of who the members of this organization are: the United Grain Growers, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Manitoba Pool Elevators, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Alberta Wheat Pool, Prairie Canola Growers Council, the Flax Growers of Western Canada, Keystone Agricultural Producers, Western Barley Growers Association, the Oat Producers Association of Alberta, Canadian Seed Growers Association, and Unifarm.
Five of these organizations are also members of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and, most important, all these organizations have taken this issue to their membership and have received a strong vote of confidence. Again I would suggest this indicates some form of consultation. I doubt very much if the membership of those organizations would thank the government for going through yet another consultation period, at the taxpayers' expense, to find out the answer to the question that producers are in favour of this kind of research check-off.
What contribution does government currently make to agricultural research? Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spent over $2.5 million on wheat research in the last crop year and a further $8 million on barley research. The department will continue its commitment to research but this check-off proposed by producers will help us catch up to our competitors by providing additional research funding. These additional funds will allow us to double our wheat and barley breeding research programs. Government cannot do it alone and that is why we are so pleased to enter this research partnership with Canadian producers.
I would like to take a moment to review the minister's explanation of how the system will work. Western wheat and barley producers will pay voluntary levies of 20 cents a tonne on wheat and 40 cents a tonne on barley.
I should point out for some of our urban listeners that this constant reference to check-off has nothing to do with Russian literature. These levies or check-offs from the Canadian Wheat Board payments will be put into the research fund.
The amendments before us today are necessary to permit the use of the moneys collected by the Canadian Wheat Board for this cause. The Canadian Wheat Board will not be distributing the moneys collected. The funds from the check-offs will be distributed under the direction of the producer driven Western Grains Research Foundation.
The foundation will establish two research committees, one for barley and one for wheat. These committees will ensure research moneys are spent on research projects in western research centres that focus on the development of improved wheat and barley varieties.
Participation in this check-off is voluntary. Producers who want to opt out need only to submit a written request. As I said earlier, this check-off will garner additional research funds. It does not replace existing funding for agricultural research.
Supporting the legislation will mean that the levies collected will assist in providing the Canadian agricultural industry with the means to develop and use new technologies, technologies that will boost our competitive edge.
The ultimate objective of the legislation is to improve farm income through two main mechanisms; first, by improving the field performance of barley and wheat through new varieties that mature earlier, have higher yields and offer increased resistance to disease and insect pests; and, second, by maintaining and improving sales of wheat and barley by developing varieties with specific qualities required by the marketplace.
The government is committed to strategic partnerships to secure our research goals. We have invited the industry to share the responsibility for the future with us as equal partners and it has accepted.
I recommend the legislation be enacted to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act for the purpose of initiating voluntary producer levies in the interest of plant breeding research. We will be financially supporting the legislation because it is directly accountable to the producers of western Canada and because at its heart the legislation is motivated by producers who want to work with government in partnership to increase their competitive edge.