I call our meeting to order.
Before we start with our witnesses today, I'd like to formally recognize quite a number of guests with us today.
We have a delegation here from Gabon. In particular, I'd like to recognize Ms. Rose Francine Rogombé.
Ms. Rogombé, welcome to you and your delegation. I hope you enjoy our committee. I'm not sure that you'll learn anything, but most days are interesting. Welcome anyway, and thanks for being here.
We also have quite a number of dairy farmers in the crowd who are in Ottawa for meetings and so on, so welcome to all of you.
With no further ado, we'll move to our witnesses.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada are represented here by Mr. Rejean Bouchard.
We have, from the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets, Mr. Jon Bell.
From CropLife Canada, we have Dennis Prouse and Peter MacLeod .
First of all, Mr. Bouchard....
No, I'm reading from the wrong list here.
My apologies, Mr. Lampron. You have ten minutes or less, please.
My name is Pierre Lampron. I'm a dairy farmer from the Mauricie region. I live in Saint-Boniface-de-Shawinigan, in the heart of Quebec. I have an organic dairy farm. I'm a member of the board of directors of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec and of the board of directors of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, or DFC. I deal with research files.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, DFC is pleased to have the opportunity to provide our comments concerning the committee's study of Growing Forward 2 with a focus on the science and innovation pillar.
DFC is the national lobby, policy and promotion organization representing Canadas 13,000 dairy farms. Our mandate is to create stable conditions for the Canadian dairy industry, today and in the future. Dairy producers fund its operations, including promotional activities as well as research activities in human nutrition and health and in dairy production.
We have long recognized that science and innovation are essential to improving our farm businesses and their profitability. DFC has been investing in research in the field of human nutrition and health as well as dairy production since the 90s. Dairy farmers finance numerous projects at the national level in partnership with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
We also provide funding for research chairs and networks in many Canadian universities. Our total yearly investment in research for the study of human nutrition and health and dairy production is $1.7 million. Of this, $750,000 is directed toward dairy producers' priorities to improve efficiency, on-farm sustainability, animal health and welfare, and dairy genetics.
Our partnerships supported hundreds of scientists, professors and students working in 22 dairy research centres and academic institutions across Canada. The contribution of research has led to tangible results year after year. Fewer cows are needed today to produce enough milk for Canadians. Since the introduction of supply management in 1971, the average herd size has increased from about 20 to 76 cows over the same period, shipments per farm have increased by about 600%. The average annual production of milk per cow has almost doubled and now exceeds 10,000 kg.
Science and innovation are important drivers for the industry's profitability. During the past year, we were pleased to be a partner under the agri-science clusters initiative. The dairy research cluster will receive close to $7.5 million, with a $1.5 million contribution from the Canadian Dairy Commission and $161,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. These investments support Dairy Farmers of Canada's 25% contribution of $3 million.
The dairy research cluster has 46 research projects in human health and nutrition, sustainable development, and animal health and welfare involving more than 100 scientific experts and students from Canadian universities and research centres. This program will end on March 31, 2013.
Besides addressing industry priorities, one of the major benefits of the cluster program has been the cost-sharing arrangement with a ratio of 25% in funding from the industry and a 75% contribution by government. Consequently this formula allowed us to expand our research investments considerably to address our priorities in the interest of Canadians. It also provided an opportunity to take a more coordinated, integrated and strategic approach to address these priority issues.
However, the new cluster program and requirements have created some challenges in administration, timing and fund allocating methods. This resulted in the implementation of a five-year plan in less than three years. DFC understands that the government process for administering public funds is complex. But administrative considerations should not become an impediment to the efficient execution of projects.
Funding and support for technology transfer and communications is vital in science and innovation programs. One of the most recent achievements was the creation of the Canadian dairy research portal, a website that contains information on all dairy researchers, associated institutions, and dairy production research projects funded since 1996.
DFC intends to maintain its leadership role in supporting dairy research. In November 2011, DFC is organizing a workshop with participation from producers, scientists, governments and other industry partners, to evaluate dairy production research projects under the current cluster and identify research priorities for 2013 to 2018.
DFC hopes that science and innovation programming like the cluster will be renewed for 2013 to 2018. Continuity and long-term planning in research are essential because students and researchers need an ongoing source of funding otherwise it may be a deterrent and drain Canadian specialists who will do research in areas other than agriculture.
Over and above the five-year program, DFC believes that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada should also commit to core funding for agricultural research on a longer-term basis. The industry needs to assess results continuously and have the flexibility to either continue in a direction based on the findings or have the option to redirect the project.
A future research program should contain a more efficient and streamlined administration and auditing process to reduce the administrative burden. Programs aimed at partnering with industry need to be more flexible, particularly as they relate to the research and science cycles. The identification and hiring of highly qualified personnel and graduate students, for example, takes time. There are many factors outside of a researcher's control in dairy production, like the planting cycle and animal reproduction, that can cause delays in the project. The level of flexibility in the program should reflect the expertise of the fund recipient in managing research and programs.
DFC believes government and industry have a role in promoting and creating awareness of the progress made in research to maintain support for research as a public good. For its part, DFC has important investments in food safety at the farm level and the promotion of best management practices at the farm level to ensure that milk leaving the farm is safe. A few examples of our commitments include the Canadian quality milk program and the recent announcement of the Dairy Farm Sustainability Award, which honours those dairy farmers from Canada's four regions who make the most effort to apply sustainable development in the farm as a whole. We will announce these results.
We are proud of what we accomplished in partnership with industry and government. We wish to continue this close collaboration in the future to keep investing in research programs to continue to improve the efficiency of our farms and ensure Canadians receive a constant source of safe and high-quality dairy products.
With these remarks, Mr. Chair, I conclude my presentation and I would be happy to answer any questions.
Farmers markets are strengthening regional and local food systems by providing farmers with an additional marketing channel. Numerous farmers' markets throughout British Columbia are ensuring that fresh, local food is available in their communities.
The old concept of farmers markets across our nation is being reinvented to meet the goals of local farmers and the 2011 and future urban consumers who are the end-users of our agricultural products.
First we have to define what we mean by farmers' market: local farmers, small food processors, and artisans coming together to sell their products at a common location, with a philosophy of “make it, bake it, grow it”.
In British Columbia the number of farmers' markets has risen annually, and now the BCAFM represents over 100 such markets. Along with restaurants, wholesale. and direct farm market sales, farmers' markets are one of several marketing channels used by small and medium-scale farmers.
Farmers selling directly to consumers are able to realize retail prices at farmers' markets that can often be double what they would receive selling wholesale. In doing so, local farmers are strengthening regional food systems and contributing to their local economy.
Small-scale producers are frequently overlooked by governments and industry. What these farmers lack in size, they make up for in numbers. Cumulatively, small-scale food processors and farmers add a significant infusion of dollars to their local communities.
A 2006 economic impact study of farmers' markets by the University of Northern British Columbia found that, through local sales, $118 million remained within communities across B.C.
Farmers markets and their vendors are the face of agriculture to the average Canadian consumer. Although generally considered small-scale, farmers who sell at markets have farms that can range in size from half an acre to over 200 acres, and they may earn from $1,000 per year to $200,000 per year from market sales. They are the connection between gate and plate and, as such, are often engaged in conversations with their loyal customers.
To give confidence to the consumer, local market vendors constantly communicate their practical and extensive knowledge about their products, the varieties, the farming methods, the seasonality, etc., in their interactions with their customers.
We come today with five recommendations under innovation.
Number one is to support the establishment of permanent farmers' markets by providing business planning tools to market managers. Although 175,000 consumers shop at farmers' markets in B.C., farmers' markets are considered temporary events, and are nearly always located on temporary sites. Only two farmers' markets in British Columbia are even close to securing permanent locations. When farmers' markets lose their locations, they lose their momentum and must re-establish their loyal customer base. The Kitchener-Waterloo farmers' market has been in continuous operation for 130 years at its permanent location, and is part of the social fabric of that community.
Number two is to focus on strengthening Canadian domestic markets by educating consumers. The shopping preference of farmers' market customers is for fresh, in-season products. Price ranks the lowest out of 14 preference factors. These consumers understand and value the quality of Canadian products. Growing Forward 2 needs to capitalize on this by reinforcing for consumers the reasons why consuming Canadian products are worthwhile. They include high quality, stringent food safety practices, nutrition and freshness, contribution to the Canadian economy, support for the Canadian farmer, and preservation of farmland.
A 2009 Ipsos Reid poll found that the popularity of farmers' markets is at an all-time high, with almost nine in ten respondents saying they enjoy visits to farms and farmers' markets where they can buy their food fresh off the farm and meet the grower in person. The same poll found that farmers are highly trusted, well above many other professions. Farmers markets nurture this trust, and raise the profile of agriculture in urban areas where over 75% of the public say they know little about agriculture. Farmers market vendors are filling this information gap.
We agree that export markets are essential to commodity farmers. However, current Growing Forward policy is biased towards export markets when the Canadian public is showing considerable concern and interest in strengthening their regional food systems to ensure that Canadians continue to have control over food production.
Number three is to improve information technology and access to training in rural areas. Communication technology via the Internet has proven to be a key factor in improving profitability for the Canadian farmer. Farmers markets have embraced the new social media to advertise their products, be in touch with consumers, coordinate market activities, and participate in planning and governance for the sector.
Farmers in more remote areas of B.C. are often challenged by the lack of high-speed connectivity when attempting to keep pace in a fast-moving environment. The BCAFM has produced programs such as MarketSafe, a food safety course for market vendors, and has found that the uptake would be higher if the courses were available online. Farmers cannot just leave their operation for a day of training. Relief workers may need to be found, or they may need to travel excessive distances to attend a course.
Our association is working towards raising the level of food safety at all our markets and towards the goal of having all vendors trained in “on farm” and food safety relevant to farmers' markets. Many of our members are young farmers with computer skills and entrepreneurial spirit. They use social media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and QR codes to communicate with their savvy customers. They are innovators and entrepreneurs putting new products on the market. There are good examples of B.C. success stories.
Number four is science research that is scalable and leads to readily usable and adaptable products and technologies for farmers. Small-scale agriculture is the user of science and the innovator of new concepts with the adaptation of ideas and technologies. Our member vendors work hard to keep up, to provide safe, pesticide-residue-free, and healthy produce and products that consumers demand, while at the same time making a reasonable income. They use today's science information to be competitive in the domestic market, and a failure to do so will see them financially marginalized.
Basic scientific research has been a cornerstone of supporting the Canadian farmer for over a century. As science has changed over time, so has the Canadian farmer. New science, to be of use to small producers, must be practical and cost-effective, but more important, scalable. To protect their investment, farmers need fast, easy-to-use, and accurate technologies to detect invasive pests and diseases. They do not need long, expensive protocols.
Delays in intervention can be crucial. Examples of this type of technology would be small hand-held probes to determine the presence or absence of a disease, allowing rapid control intervention. Science is helping us to be better farmers, protecting consumers, and contributing to a better lifestyle for all Canadians.
Number five is enhanced domestic farm production in coastal British Columbia to assist farmers with growing year-round and then selling at farmers' markets year-round or exporting to other areas within Canada. The possibility for the west coast to become the market garden for the other areas of Canada, which have harsher winter climates, is becoming higher with the rising consumer demand for Canadian products first.
This is not because of the impact of climate—it is because of the use of innovative techniques such as inexpensive polytunnels and crop shelters, making it possible to grow certain crops year-round in coastal B.C. The breeding of new varieties of vegetables with low light requirements and cold tolerance would augment this initiative.
In the mildest part of B.C., winter markets have started, and local fresh leafy greens appear alongside traditionally offered meats, potatoes, squash, and carrots. Year-round production would make winter farmers' markets viable and would provide customers with the option of purchasing domestic products year-round.
In conclusion, many Canadians believe it is vital for small and medium farms to maintain a critical mass within the agriculture sector and to help ensure vibrant rural communities. There are many possible actions and strategies to be explored so that farms are profitable and sustainable well into the future.
Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, and thank you for the invitation to be here today.
My name is Peter MacLeod. I am the vice-president of chemistry at CropLife Canada.
With me today is my colleague Dennis Prouse, CropLife Canada's vice-president of government affairs.
CropLife Canada is the trade association that represents the developers, manufacturers, and distributors of crop protection products and plant biotechnology.
These tools help keep Canada's agriculture industry competitive and sustainable, and by delivering an affordable supply of safe and healthy food, help ensure that Canadians enjoy a high standard of living. Without pesticides and plant biotechnology, Canadian farmers and the Canadian economy would suffer enormous losses.
Crop quality and yield increases resulting from pesticides and plant biotechnology lead to direct gains for farmers of about $7.9 billion per year. This increased yield from crop protection products and plant biotechnology also benefit the average Canadian, especially at the grocery store, where the benefits of our technologies save Canadian families almost 60% at the checkout counter. Innovations in plant science technologies don't just boost agricultural productivity; they boost it in a sustainable way.
For example, pesticides and plant biotechnology have allowed farmers to adopt conservation or no-till farming practices. In 2008, for example, conservation tillage prevented 12 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. It also reduces fossil fuel use by more than 170 million litres a year, not to mention the benefits of water retention and soil erosion prevention.
Plus, if Canadian farmers didn't use pesticides and plant biotechnology, they would have to cultivate an additional 37 million acres of land to produce what they do today. This 37 million acres is about equal to all of the cultivated land in the province of Saskatchewan.
Canada's world-renowned regulatory system ensures that Canadian farmers have access to the latest innovations in technology. Both Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency do excellent work keeping Canadians and the environment safe. They are well respected internationally, largely because Canada's system is predictable and science-based and focuses on health and safety as top priorities. Yet here at home, Canadians know very little about the regulation of pesticides and plant biotechnology and their respective contribution to food security in Canada and around the world. This is unfortunate.
To give Canadians confidence in the regulation of the products that will inevitably be needed to feed the world and protect the environment, more needs to be done to educate the public about the good work our government does on their behalf. We commend the federal government for its recent movement in this regard, and are hopeful that Canadians will continue to receive information designed to educate them about the high calibre of Canada's science-based regulatory system. However, our first request is that more be done on this front.
If innovation is to truly flourish in Canada, government needs to help Canadians understand the benefits of technology and the systems in place to ensure that the technologies are safe. And, when required, it needs to defend the rigours of their regulatory system. Without this fundamental support, some of the most beneficial innovations in any of the range of sectors could easily wither on the vine simply for lack of public support.
Imagine if this had been the case when the canola industry was in its infancy. Today canola is an industry valued at $14 billion a year and is a huge Canadian success story, due in no small part to the pro-innovation foundation upon which it was built.
This challenge of putting innovation in context for the general public goes beyond federal government communications, however. Here in Canada there has been a worrying trend of provincial and municipal governments undermining the credibility of the federal government. Such an environment is untenable for industries such as ours.
Each new plant biotechnology or pesticide innovation requires a financial investment of $100 million to $250 million and takes as long as ten years to bring to market. Given the size of this investment, I am sure you can appreciate that our industry must be prudent about where it invests.
Unless our industry continues to invest in Canada, Canadian producers cannot possibly hope to compete with farmers in other countries where science-based regulations are respected and upheld. We encourage this committee to defend science-based regulations and to communicate with the public about the importance of innovation and science.
We would also like to see Canada champion a more integrated and harmonized international approval system for our technologies. Our belief is that much could be accomplished by opening up the approval process to recognize the work of and decisions by other countries that are committed to science-based regulations.
In this way, not only do we more efficiently and expeditiously offer Canadian farmers access to the latest tools, but we deliver better market access, without compromising safety or integrity of international regulatory systems.
We believe pest control products and plant biotechnology can continue to play a pivotal role for the transformation of Canada and the competitiveness of Canadian farmers. We also believe the extent of this role will depend on the decisions made and the actions taken within Growing Forward 2.
Farmers are facing extraordinary challenges--a ballooning world population, climate change, and water scarcity, just to name a few. All of these challenges can be met with modern solutions: drought- and salt-tolerant crops, better disease control, better nitrogen utilization, and foods with improved nutritional content. There's no doubt that advances in plant science technologies will continue to yield solutions for some of the world's greatest challenges. Rest assured we are working on these.
Canada's plant science industry supports an agricultural sector that is resilient, competitive, and sustainable. In fact, our commitment to sustainability goes back several decades. As an industry, we have long been committed to full life-cycle stewardship practices.
The best known of these programs are our obsolete pesticide and empty container programs, which are currently run through CleanFARMS, our sister organization. Add to that the research into technologies that will increase on-farm sustainability through such things as improved nitrogen utilization varieties, and it becomes clear that for our industry, sustainability is much more than a buzzword; it's a long-term commitment.
By improving the ability of crops to use nitrogen, we reduce the amount of money farmers pay for fertilizer and the amount of gas they use applying it, and at the same time we increase their profitability. Our industry also continues to refine pest-control products so that use rates can continue to be reduced and products and applications can become more targeted. Our industry is optimistic about the ability of Growing Forward 2 to develop a forward-thinking and enabling environment within which agricultural innovations can flourish.
We note that recently this government has made significant progress on such important agricultural policies as those concerning low-level presence and market access. We are encouraged by 's emphasis on science at the recent Cairns meetings.
We look forward to being a part of a dynamic, innovative, and highly competitive Canadian agricultural sector that works to benefit Canadians and the world around us.
Thank you for your time today.
I am going to answer in French.
I would like to further respond to the more specific questions on areas for improvement, especially regarding the administration of clusters.
It was a challenge to learn the rules and vocabulary, such as vote 1 and vote 10 or to adjust to the government's fiscal years, with appropriations that are fixed and non-transferable from year to year. Those are things we have managed to get a handle on, but we had to adjust. It took time to understand the rules ourselves first, and then to be able to explain them to others and to ensure they are adopted by those who do the research for us, primarily universities. We have to say that people at the research centres of Agriculture Canada are already very familiar with the internal rules.
That's why there were delays. Announcing the program itself and setting it up afterwards required a lot of time and caused delays. Yes, ultimately, we will be able to fulfill the contract, but we will do so in some other way. For example, since we want to achieve our objectives in a shorter period of time, research in universities will be conducted by technicians or professionals, and unfortunately not by students. Students will not be able to do it because school is still out. Also, recruiting students sometimes takes a long time, and they sometimes work less quickly than technicians. But it is still unfortunate that those circumstances have forced us to cut training for new students.
By knowing those things beforehand, we could plan for them. Those things take time to plan. In addition, we would be much better prepared because we would already be familiar with that whole structure.
As for challenges, I will not get into the details of administrative rules or accounting rules. I will only say that imposing government rules is a challenge. We already had our ways of doing things, but we can adapt. However, it can be difficult to impose those new rules to the whole Canadian university system. You have to convince people and that takes time and goodwill.
There should also be an element of trust. We already have the experience and background; we already have our ways of managing research projects. So rather than asking us to constantly provide evidence for everything, why not have an audit? It would be easier than asking us to provide all the information and all the evidence by set deadlines, whether quarterly or otherwise.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Just so that you're aware, I understand I'll be splitting my time with the parliamentary secretary.
Thank you very much to the committee members for coming.
One of the things that I feel we all too often get trapped into as a sign of success is the total dollar value in these programs. The government announces that this is how much money they've put into science and innovation this year, so it must be a success because it's more than last year or the year before.
As we've gone through this process, we've talked with several witnesses about the fact that you need more streamlined processes. It's not always about dollars and cents; sometimes you need a process that has less “bureaucratese” in it. You also need a process that has less paperwork, that's less burdensome on the smaller researchers and the smaller organizations.
Then everybody seems to get to the point--and I'd like to congratulate my colleagues like Mr. Lobb for such well-researched questions today--where you talk about the research needs in terms of how we get it from technology to commercialization, and that's the end goal.
My question is for you, Mr. MacLeod. How important is it that research is targeted at commercialization as an end goal? Is that what we should be focusing on?