December 4, 2019 – CCC president Jim Everson presented the following speech on canola’s strategic priorities to delegates at the annual Canola Industry Meeting, hosted by Ag-West Bio in Saskatoon today.
The Speech from the Combine
It’s great to be back in Saskatoon, in the heart of the canola country.
I wish I could say, here on December 4, that harvest is all wrapped up. But we all know how challenging this crop year has been and about the canola still to be harvested.
So let me start by acknowledging and thanking the farmer. Growers faced it all this year. Drought in the south, excess moisture in many areas, early frost and snow, and a constant bombardment of news about the unpredictable global marketplace – the U.S.-China dispute, China’s actions to limit canola seed imports and trade disruptions in other commodities.
My hat is off to the farmer who navigates these challenges on a daily basis and continues to do their very best day in and day out.
With these many challenges to the farmer in mind, I chose to title my presentation today, “The Speech from the Combine.” It’s an important time for our federal government as tomorrow they will lay out their plan for the new Parliament in the Speech from the Throne.
And while people will be viewing tomorrow’s speech from many perspectives, seeing it ‘from the combine’ means looking for how it will take practical measures within our control to enable sustainable growth – just like how farmers make plans from the combine for the practical things they’ll do tomorrow.
We all know there’s been a lot of talk since the October 21 election – about who will speak for the West in Cabinet, about pipelines, about equalization and other issues. At home, the federal government is in a minority Parliament and relations between it and the provincial governments are strained. On the international front, there’s a weakening of commitment to rules-based trade globally, unpredictability over tariffs and increased protectionism.
And yet, the next months and years are pivotal for our industry.
So today, I’d like to talk about the practical things we can do – things that are within our control. About how we get beyond the noise and focus on strategic priorities. Strategic priorities that will enable more sustainable growth and opportunity for everyone in the grains and oilseeds value chain.
So what does the canola sector need to see in the government’s plans for this Parliament? For farmers combining, thinking of the future, what advice do they have for tomorrow’s speech by the Governor General?
The draw bolt of growing the ag sector is cooperation between industry and government, and between the federal and provincial levels of government. Agriculture, as we all know, is a shared jurisdiction. National programs, such as the Canadian Agricultural Partnership are federal-provincial in design and both levels of government have strategies to promote growth.
Today’s news seems to be dominated by conflict between our governments, especially across the West.
But, I think it’s a good thing that this divisiveness is not evident on agriculture issues. Since March, our industry has been severely challenged by the market disruption with China. My experience throughout this period is that provincial and federal governments have worked well together and with the industry to find solutions. Both levels of government participate, at senior levels, in the Canola Working Group and are working well together with industry.
We are expecting that unity to be reflected among Canada’s governments. Only with the combined energies of the provincial and federal authorities will we weather this storm.
Another key ingredient for success is a clear mission and work plan. And here too, our industry should be in a good place.
Troubled as this year has been, we still want decision makers to recognize the growth and potential of our sector. We’re still a story of growth and ambitious, attainable goals.
During its first mandate, the Liberal government established some bold objectives for the export-oriented agriculture sector. Building off of the visionary roadmap outlined by Dominic Barton, now Canada’s Ambassador to China, the government established the Economic Strategy Table for Agriculture, chaired by Murad Al Katib from AGT Industries here in Saskatchewan.
The Strategy Table laid out a mission for the sector. The mission:
By 2025, Canada will be one of the top five competitors in the agri-food sector, recognized as the most trusted, competitive and reliable supplier of safe, sustainable, high-quality agri-food products and an innovator in value-added products to feed the dynamic global consumer. We will have a leading digital and technology-based supply chain and stand out as the world’s favoured protein provider.
In the recent election campaign, the government endorsed this vision by promising to, “increase Canada’s exports by 50% by 2025.”
Being here in Saskatchewan, I would be remiss if I did not also draw attention to Premier Moe’s, “Saskatchewan Growth Plan,” which also lays out an ambitious plan to boost exports, increase value-added processing and continue innovating in agriculture.
So, as Prime Minister Trudeau and Agriculture Minister Bibeau set out their plans for this federal mandate, they can ‘hit the ground running’ because there’s a strong consensus about where we’re going at both levels of government, as well as the grains and oilseeds industry.
We have a clear vision and a solid roadmap. It’s time for action.
The priorities for our industry are three:
- First, trade and market access.
- Second, a domestic regulatory environment that encourages innovation.
- And third: environment policies that recognize agriculture as a solutions provider.
Let me start with trade.
With 90% of canola production destined for export, it’s clear our greatest priority has to be trade and access to markets.
Canada relies on an international agriculture trade system which is science and rules-based. Clearly, this system is under strain as economic might, tariff warfare and a lack of support for multilateral institutions appear to rule the day.
These are concerns to be sure, but Canada’s fundamental approach to trade should be maintained and we should be looking for new ways to advance it in these uncertain times. Canada’s export-oriented agriculture sector has certainly been impacted by these trends – with market disruptions affecting all our major commodities but we should be careful not to declare the era of rules-based trade to be over.
In recent years, Canada has signed free trade agreements with markets representing two-thirds of the world economy. And other countries such as China, the European Union and the United States, are also moving forward with trade liberalizing agreements. Protectionism, as always, is a factor but there is also evidence of a strong international commitment to trade and Canada should stay on course as an advocate for science- and rules-based trade, building multilateral frameworks to support market access.
One thing is clear in this trade environment – there is no single recipe for success. Requirements for market access are different for various commodities, export markets and political situations. There is no playbook for all situations. Close partnership between industry and our governments is critically important. Having a single strategy and the ability to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances is also important.
We have been aggressively urging the Canadian government to station technical experts in posts abroad, especially in Asia, where they can develop relationships with key regulators in host countries and move quickly to address concerns before they harden into trade barriers. Credible analysis and data are the tools that must be deployed, rapidly, when a situation develops. When the host country’s regulators are familiar with Canadian specialists there’s an element of trust and credibility which may not exist without proactive effort from Canada.
Of course, for the canola industry, when it comes to trade, the situation with China is front and centre. Where do we stand today?
Well, the situation is complex, to say the least. Political tensions between Canada and China, having nothing to do with canola, are at play. So too, is the trade skirmish between the U.S and China. So, resolution is not a simple matter of negotiations about canola.
Our two largest exporters, Viterra and Richardson, are still not permitted to ship seed to China.
However, there is trade of seed occurring, about a quarter of our normal exports.
With respect to oil, exports have continued but the outlook for 2020 is uncertain.
Canada’s trade in meal is unaffected.
China is a valuable market for Canadian canola. Together with the federal government we are working to re-open access to the market. There are a number of developments. On a recent trip to Beijing, I was able to brief our new Ambassador, Dominic Barton. Having an Ambassador in place is an important step in building relations and creating an environment for fruitful negotiations on a range of issues.
In October, Canada and China met at the World Trade Organization in Geneva for a face-to-face consultation on trade in canola. We are hopeful that continued dialogue between our two governments, a solution-oriented mindset on both sides and the support of the new Ambassador will lead to the return to a predictable trade environment.
The second area of focus must be regulatory reform here at home.
In the canola sector, the prospects of continued growth, despite recent trade challenges, are strong.
Strong global demand; a powerful value chain supported by globally competitive companies in the grain handling, processing and seed development sectors; and excellent growers, quick to adopt new innovation and best practices.
In this quickly evolving sector, the ability of our regulatory programs to stay abreast with innovation may be a key factor in growth and competitiveness.
Canada is in urgent need of clear and predictable requirements for the pre-market assessment of gene-edited crops. We need a clear and transparent approach at home if we are to effectively advocate for workable approaches abroad.
Canada’s like-minded trading partners and competitors including Japan, the U.S., Australia, many in South America and others have already outpaced Canada in the clarity and predictability they are providing to crop developers who are using tools like CRISPR or other gene-editing systems.
We are concerned that Canada is at risk of falling behind our like-minded trading partners and will not receive its fair share of investment in crop innovation.
Since last year, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has been leading a government-industry initiative to develop a number of improvements to the Canadian regulatory environment for plants with novel traits, novel foods and novel feeds.
We need improved clarity from regulators so the innovators can see in advance when new varieties will require pre-market assessment. In addition, a tiered regulatory approach will help to ensure regulatory requirements are science-based and commensurate with risk.
This is critical work. We’ll be pressing CFIA and Health Canada to see it through to implementation. This is the way Canadian crop developers and their farmer customers will regain global advantage in the successful adoption of innovation.
Likewise, our industry looks to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) for science-based regulation of crop protection products in Canada and for leadership internationally so that our canola can meet science-based rules in our export markets.
In our view, the PMRA needs more resources and more high-quality data to continue to make decisions based on evidence and good science. Additionally, PMRA should have sufficient resources to be a leader on the international stage, such as at CODEX, in developing international approaches to science-based decision making.
These regulatory programs here at home are critical for our grains and oilseeds sector to prosper in a globally competitive environment.
And finally, I would like to speak to our role as a solutions provider for the environment.
Care for the environment, climate change, de-carbonizing the economy, natural resource extraction – these are the issues driving much of the political discourse today and arguably the most evident in the recent federal election.
What I find missing from this debate is the important role our industry plays in improving environmental outcomes. The prevailing dialogue in the agriculture community is the costs of compliance with GHG-reducing policies, including the carbon tax. These costs are real, to be sure, and very challenging for the rural economy, especially during a harvest like the one we are having now.
Our growers and the agriculture industry should be recognized for the contribution we make to improved environmental outcomes.
When it comes to improving our environment, the canola industry is a solutions provider.
When processed into a diesel fuel, canola lowers GHG emissions by up to 90% compared to conventional diesel. Why is it not a national priority to utilize Canadian agriculture feedstocks in our domestic diesel fuel supply? It is a win-win-win. It is a proven pathway for lowering GHG emissions, it creates economic growth in value-added agriculture processing and it provides a diversified, stable market for Canadian canola producers. Canada’s efforts to reduce carbon in transportation fuels should include incentives to utilize canola and biofuels.
Canola takes carbon from the atmosphere to make food and feed, and on top of that we’re also sequestering carbon in the soil. Where is the government policy which acknowledges this contribution and creates incentives, as opposed to costs, for farmers to continue to contribute? In evolving their tillage practices over the past years, farmers, supported by an innovative ecosystem, have greatly reduced energy use while increasing yields on every acre.
Our environmental policies need to ensure that good environmental practices in agriculture are rewarded, and that we encourage continuous improvement throughout the value chain.
The industry has a bright future. We’re never complacent, but we should take some comfort in the positives.
Our industry is a powerful one with many strengths and an outstanding future. We are a key driver of economic growth for Canada and the leading producer of a healthy, high quality oil and protein that’s increasingly in demand around the world. Along with our unified effort to meet our industry’s growth potential, we are also a key partner in realizing society’s environmental goals – working together to ensure higher yields are achieved through greater efficiency of inputs and care for the land, and offering real and robust greenhouse gas emission reductions through canola-based biofuels.
Let’s not be distracted by political conflict in Canada or uncertainty in the trade environment.
Let’s focus on what is within our control, and what we can do working together to create more sustainable growth.
- We need a focused and coordinated approach to trade and market access that keeps trade predictable, based on rules and science.
- We need to make our regulatory environment for seed innovation and crop protection products enable innovation.
- And we need agriculture to be a solutions provider for the environmental challenges our society faces.
We have a bright future ahead of us. We have a proven track record of coming together to tackle challenging issues. And we have an opportunity to focus on the most important things within our control to create more sustainable growth.
So, it is an exciting time for canola.
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