Last month, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture travelled to Washington, D.C., to take part in a joint press conference with his counterparts from the United States and Mexico on the day talks were formally launched to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. The heads of the national farming groups had a clear message for negotiators: “Do no harm.” In the agricultural sector, they said, NAFTA was a success story for all three countries.
Was the trip worthwhile?
In an interview with Ron Bonnett, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, earlier this month, the answer was a resounding yes – for two reasons:
First, the trip there provided the opportunity to send a strong message to the U.S. Congress, who was ultimately the target, Bonnett said. The national farming groups wanted to underline to the elected members how many jobs were at stake in the agricultural economy.
Second, the return trip was perhaps even more successful, because Bonnett’s seat on the plane from Washington to Toronto was right next to the one occupied by Chrystia Freeland, federal minister of Foreign Affairs, who was returning to Canada after presiding over the kick-off to the trade talks. The seating arrangement offered Bonnett a unique opportunity.
“It was kind of nice, just having a conversation,” Bonnett said, explaining the exchange was very informal in nature, and lasted the length of the flight, about an hour and a half.
“She was completely aware of what we were doing,” he said. “I feel very confident she has an understanding of the issues. She understands the sensitivity of supply management.”
Bonnett stepped off the plane at Pearson International Airport more confident about the negotiations than he was when he left for Washington. He said Freeland, who grew up on a farm in Alberta, has a very knowledgeable grasp of the issues Canadian farmers face. Both her father and paternal grandfather were farmers.
As the third round of negotiations is set to begin, Bonnett is confident. Issues related to agriculture have not been dealt with in a substantive manner yet, he said. And he recognizes that pressure by the White House “to more than tweak” the accord is worrisome.
“This is the strangest negotiation we have ever seen. Everyone is keeping their heads low,” he said. “Mexico and Canada are united in the desire to improve the agreement.”
But he acknowledges that because of the pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump, there is a lot of posturing. “Don’t believe everything you read in the media right now,” he said.
On Aug. 16 in Washington, the CFA, the American Farm Bureau Federation and Mexico’s Consejo Nacional Agropecuario issued a joint statement outlining five areas where the NAFTA accord could be improved:
1. Increased and improved regulatory alignment.
2. Improved flow of goods at border crossings.
3. Further alignment of sanitary and phytosanitary measures using a science-based approach.
4. Elimination of non-science based technical barriers to trade.
5. Revisions that reflect technological advances, including digital trade.
Agriculture and agri-food systems in Canada generated $106.9 billion in 2013, accounting for 6.7% of the country’s GDP.
Agriculture provides one in eight jobs in Canada, employing over 2.2 million people.
The performance of the agriculture and agri-food system depends on their ability to compete in both domestic and international markets.
Canada was the world’s fifth-largest exporter of agriculture and agri-food products in 2013, with 3.5% of the total value of world agriculture exports.
The U.S. is Canada’s most important export destination, accounting for 50.8% of total Canadian exports. China accounts for 11.2%, while Japan, E.U., and Mexico account for 17% combined.
In the U.S., under NAFTA, U.S. farmers and ranchers have benefited from an increase in annual exports to Mexico and Canada, which have gone from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $38 billion in 2016.
20 percent of U.S. farm income is based on exports.
Source: Canadian Federation of Agriculture and American Farm Bureau Federation
Special to the Advocate
Marking a historical first, representatives of the Quebec Farmers’ Association and the Union des producteurs agricoles met earlier this month with a delegation of Chinese agricultural officials interested in learning more about Quebec’s farming industry.
The landmark meeting with 19 representatives of Chinese agricultural groups and senior members of the local level of government from Heilongjiang province in northeastern China signals the first time the QFA and UPA have participated in a dialogue with Chinese interests.
“The purpose of the visit was to make introductions and share information on respective Chinese and Canadian industry,” said Dougal Rattray, the executive director of the QFA, who facilitated the encounter at QFA headquarters in Longueuil. “They were seeking knowledge on how the UPA is structured, how QFA fit in, and how each organization represents the interests of the farming community here in Quebec.”
Although preliminary, Rattray explained the meeting marks a significant step: “This visit ought to be viewed in the context of recent international trade developments,” he explained, pointing to the formal public acknowledgement during the same week of a $225-million investment by a major Chinese dairy company to build a milk-processing plant in Kingston, Ont. Negotiations that led to that deal, which will see a 300,000-square-foot facility built in Kingston’s industrial sector to produce baby formula primarily destined for the Chinese market, began with similar meetings with Chinese officials in Kingston last year. The investor, Feihe International Inc., operates seven manufacturing plants, including four in Heilongjiang province, the same region the delegation that met with the QFA and UPA is from.
No specific plans for investment projects were discussed with the Chinese officials, Rattray said, but this may be an initial step that leads to further dialogue.
“Canadian milk has a very strong reputation – high quality through stringent control measures that are recognized beyond Canadian borders. Our supply-managed model provides milk producers with a degree of stability in an otherwise volatile market place, but through World Trade Organization (WTO) rules we also have an opportunity to consider a diversified market.”
Rattray met with another delegation on Aug. 15 from Sichuan province. This may signal deeper interest. “Only time will tell,” Rattray said.
Rattray consulted widely with industry experts prior to meeting the delegations. In one such conversation a caution was raised: “We can only be interested in trade where producers are paid above the cost of production,” said Robbie Beck, president of the Pontiac region Dairy Federation.
Besides being a potential ‘in’ for Quebec and Canada, both meetings are significant for QFA as they “display the position of the English-speaking minority language farming community as a window for dialogue,” Rattray said, adding, “If foreign interests who may themselves have language limitations wish to pursue relationship-building initiatives with Quebec, connecting with the minority-language community can be a means worth investigating.”
“QFA has a well-developed network that can work to the advantage of the farming community as a whole. Of course, it is important to be cognisant of potential impacts – both negative and positive. But being open to exchange that results in mutual and equitable benefit that helps nurture trust and respect is an initiative that warrants pursuit.”
In comment, QFA President John McCart added, “It’s important our members – and non-member constituents – understand that QFA is involved in these types of discussions. When people pay for their memberships, they’re directly supporting these types of initiatives,” he said. “We are working diligently with a strong board that balances the needs of all in our farming community. It will be interesting to see where this initial conversation leads us.”
Marcel Groleau UPA President, Quebec Farmer’s Advocate, June 2017
A recent article in La Presse+ referred to a report by the Institute for Governance of Public and Private Organizations (IGOPP) that suggested that the UPA exerts “inordinate influence” over the decisions of the Financière agricole du Québec (FADQ). I was not misquoted: UPA representatives have always been a minority on the board of directors, in accordance with the Act respecting La Financière agricole du Québec, and they provide crucial information throughout the decision-making process.
Their contribution is furthermore aligned with the founding principles of the institution. As then-minister of agriculture Rémy Trudel said in December 2000, the presence of the UPA allows the FADQ to “develop products and services by offering the expertise of agricultural producers.” The IGOPP report shows a rather poor understanding of the institution and underlying legislative intentions.
I would point out that the UPA representatives are the only ones with such specific knowledge of the issues facing the various production sectors, and are therefore able to assess the impact of FADQ decisions on farmers.
Would the general interest, as well as the interests of producers, be better served by farmers appointed by the minister based on political allegiance? Let’s not forget that farmers bear 30 to 40 per cent of the cost of insurance programs, and that their contributions to the FADQ coffers currently top $400 million. It is therefore utterly appropriate that the UPA, which represents all Quebec producers, partake in monitoring the management of those funds.
La Presse+ also refers to various reports and events at which “the UPA threw its weight around.” Unfortunately, the article does not include my response to that comment. The Gagné report offered maple syrup producers the option of going back to a time when they were paid whatever was offered based on seasonal volumes. Collective marketing has provided producers with negotiating power, which the Gagné report sought to undermine. The producers rejected the report, having already lived through an unhealthy dependence on maple syrup retailers.
The farm property tax reforms undertaken by former minister of agriculture Pierre Paradis, meanwhile, overlooked negative financial consequences for the vast majority of farms. Those administrative changes would even have allowed for compensation to landowners who do not produce crops or rent their land to producers—$5 million to non-producers!— while cutting compensation for professional producers. The UPA rejected this flawed reform proposal. Once again, the involvement of producers made all the difference.
As for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, it is disingenuous to blame the UPA for Maxime Bernier’s defeat. It was Mr. Bernier himself who attempted to hitch his campaign to the Union and to its producers, despite calling them economically illiterate.
The UPA had nothing to do with it. Maxime Bernier reached out to farmers himself. The UPA is a big organization, built on the engagement of producers and its directors. For 93 years, the UPA has been as strong as the sum of its members’ involvement in the organization, supported by rigorous analysis and sound and timely proposals. Looking ahead to the challenges to come, collective engagement isn’t a threat, but rather the solution for society as a whole.
Andrew McClelland, Advocate Staff Reporter, June 2017
Canadian agricultural producers know that when the census rolls around every four years they have more forms to fill out than the rest of the population. But all that form filling late at night at the kitchen table has been collected by the folks at Statistics Canada. And it paints a vivid portrait of how farming in Canada is changing. As everyone in the business knows, farms in Canada are getting fewer—but larger. The number of farms in Canada has decreased since 2011—when the last Census of Agriculture was conducted— but the acreage of farms has increased.
The average size of a Canadian farm in 2016 was 820 acres, compared to 779 acres in 2011. The highest percentage of farms are still small and hobby-sized to medium-sized. The majority of Canadian farms are between 10 and 69 acres, with 32,036 falling into that category, while another 9,089 farms are 3,520 acres or larger. Total farm area is measured at 158.7 million acres, with 93.4 million acres used for crops.
The data counted 193,492 farms across the country, down from 205,730 farms recorded in the 2011 census. That means there are fewer farm operations being run in Canada all the time.
The farmers themselves
While there may be fewer farmers on the whole in Canada, there are signs that younger farmers are on the rise nationally.
According to Statistics Canada, 271,935 people identified themselves as farm operators in 2016. That total number is down from 2011, but the number of farmers under 35 appears to be increasing. A total of 24,850 farmers across Canada are 35 years old and younger, up from 24,120 in 2011.
“This was the first absolute increase in this category of operators since 1991,” Statistics Canada said in its release. The governmental agency noted, however, that key operators on the farm are still aged 55 and older, in keeping with the general population’s rise in age.
“The average age of operators— individuals who make management decisions for the agricultural enterprise—edged up from 54.0 years in 2011 to 55.0 years in 2016,” Statistics Canada said. “This trend parallels the aging of the general population.
Among Canadians aged 15 to 64, the share of people aged 55 to 64 years old (all baby boomers) reached a record high 21.0 per cent in 2016.” There are 77,970 female producers in Canada. Women account for an increasing share of farm operators, rising from 27.4 per cent in 2011 to 28.7 per cent in 2016. In the 2016 Census of Agriculture, 77,970 women were listed as farm operators. Women were most prevalent among farm operators aged 35 to 54 years (30.7 per cent), followed by those aged 55 and older (27.7 per cent) and those under 35 years of age (26.4 per cent).
Quebec in the census
Quebec has long been its own agricultural entity with regards to the rest of Canada. For instance, the province boasts hosting 90 per cent of all the maple taps in the country, and it has more pigs than any province at 4.5 million head in 2016.
Quebec counted having 28,919 farms during the census, a drop by 1.8 per cent from 2011. That’s better than the national average rate of decrease of 5.9 per cent. From 2011, total farm area fell by 1.9 per cent to 8.1 million acres in 2016. All in all, agricultural operations in the province employed 55,866 people in 2015.
La belle province also counted a drop in the number of dairy cows to 347,038 head in 2016. Grain was the largest grown crop.
Of course, the census reveals that a huge portion of Canada’s farmers supplement their farm work with off-farm jobs. The survey found that 44.4 per cent of all farm operators did some off-farm work. Just over 3 in 10 operators worked an average of 30 hours a week or more off the farm. British Columbia had the highest incidence of off-farm work, as well as the highest proportion of farms with total sales under $10,000. Just over half (51.1 per cent) of farm operators in British Columbia reported receiving a wage or salary from another job or operating a business unrelated to the farm.