Soy Canada Appears Before Parliamentary Agriculture Committee to Outline Next APF Priorities

Posted on: November 17, 2016

Soy Canada recently spoke to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food about the Canadian soybean sector’s  priorities for the next Agriculture Policy Framework set to come into force on April 1, 2018

Here is the text of the presentation given by Soy Canada Executive Director Jim Everson on November 17, 2016:

Good morning Members.  It’s an honour to be invited back and appear before the committee, this time to discuss Soy Canada and the soybean industry’s perspective on the next agriculture policy framework.

As you know, Soy Canada is the national association representing the full soybean value chain.

Our membership is growing and includes producer associations that speak for soybean farmers across Canada, seed development companies, soybean exporters and processors.  Our goal is to unite the soybean sector, facilitate cooperation on important issues and represent the industry on domestic and international issues surrounding market access, trade, market development and research.

The soybean sector is growing significantly in Canada and continues to trend upward for the 2016/17 crop year.   

  • Seeded acreage is up in 2016 to 5.46 million acres – a 82% increase over the last decade
  • Production levels have doubled to 6.2 million metric tonnes since 2005
  • Farm cash receipts have reached $2.38 billion – a 200% increase since 2005
  • Exports have increased by 250 percent to 4.4 MMT in 2015 and are expected to be strong this year as growers wrap up the harvest season.

Canada’s soybean industry is also a large contributor to the national economy.

All told, our industry adds over $5.6 billion to Canada’s annual GDP and is responsible for 54,000 full-time jobs.  Much of this contribution to the Canadian economy is supported by the Government of Canada’s agriculture policy framework and the support programs that grow our industry and promote research, trade and other market development activities.

Which brings me to development of the next agriculture policy framework.

The importance of the next agriculture policy framework cannot be overstated.  The APF will play a pivotal role in the success of Canada’s agriculture sector for the next 5 years and beyond.

The APF is broad in scope.  Soy Canada supports the objectives and the ‘priority areas’ identified by federal and provincial ministers in the Calgary statement agree to this summer.  We support continued emphasis on the existing policy areas – markets and trade, innovation and Risk Management programs and we also welcome a focus on climate, public trust and value-added processing.

Today, I would like to focus first on a couple of priority areas for Canada’s soybean sector, namely support for innovation and for market access and promotion.

Today’s agriculture is all about innovation. The development of new seed varieties which address the needs of our customers globally and which provide new tools, such as yield gain and disease resistance for our farmers is a Canadian strategic advantage.  The new Agriculture Policy Framework needs to continue to invest in research and innovation and continually improve on collaboration and efficiency.

We should build on the success of the current agriculture policy framework in this area – it has been instrumental in supporting the growth I have just described in the Canadian soy sector.

Public research programs, supported through APF have been very successful in developing new seed traits that adapt to varying growing conditions.  Many of the leading soybean varieties grown by farmers today have been developed with support from APF-supported research stations and universities like the ones located in Harrow, Guelph and Ottawa.

The APF’s research cluster program is an excellent example of how industry and government researchers can align their efforts for the most effective and efficient results in research.   It facilitates nation-wide, cross-institutional research collaborations. This is really important when competing against much larger exporters, such as the U.S. and Brazil.  Clusters bring together government and industry R&D investment to set priorities so we get the best out of both and reduce duplication.  It is a model we need to build on in the new APF.

These research cluster groups have been a positive force in our industry and have shown considerable collaboration in the tackling of a number of agronomic and genomic priorities.  For example, over the last 6 years, the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance cluster group’s research efforts have been very successful in releasing over 63 new soybean varieties that provide innovation for farmers and new quality characteristics for customers.

Publicly funded research has helped to push the boundaries of soybean production in Canada greatly facilitating growth in our sector.

Over the past 10 years, new, short-season varieties have led to major production growth in Eastern Ontario and Manitoba – two regions that have traditionally had a shorter growing season than the Great Lakes region in southern Ontario.  Some of the breeding expertise is right here in Ottawa, where there has been a focus on short season, early maturing varieties.  Our university-based researchers, benefiting from APF support, have also developed new shorter season varieties as have our private sector breeders.

The significant growth of our industry in Manitoba is a result of this research effort, and continued innovation in seed development will move soybean production further north and west in coming years.

In June, Soy Canada brought together the national soybean research community to focus our efforts and align priorities.  We want to get the best from national collaboration including both public and private research.  The priorities developed through this national, full value chain, multi-jurisdictional approach will go into our sector’s development of jointly funded research in the next round of APF funding.  The Cluster approach to funding encourages this collaboration.

Our strategy on innovation is aligned with our priorities for market development and market access.  These linkages are an important consideration for APF design.  In addition to being innovative to support competiveness, we need to have predictable access to international markets.  Seventy percent of Canada’s soybean production is exported and this percentage will grow as our production of soybeans continues to grow.

Two priorities stand out when it comes to continued support for market development, market access and promotion of Canadian products.

First, continue to support the existing APF programs that are working.

The Agri-Marketing Program has helped our industry promote Canadian soybeans in export markets and maintain and secure market access.  As I outlined in opening comments, our reliance on exports is growing as Canadian production increases.

The agri-marketing program supports promotion in these markets and assists in resolving market access issues.  AMP funding supports Soy Canada’s outgoing and incoming trade missions, market research studies and many other activities that help us build and retain markets.

In February 2016 Soy Canada was able to undertake its first trade mission to South Korea and leverage the advantages from the recent Free Trade Agreement and make important business contacts.  Last week, we participated with Minister MacAulay’s trade mission to China – an opportunity that put us directly in front of importers in our largest market.

Marketing support has also allowed us to design and develop a Soy Canada “Customer Portal” that serves as a product catalogue of Canadian soybean products and provides buyers a link to Canadian suppliers.

Second, it is important that the government focus its resources in key departments on market development support and market access.  Our industry, and other sectors of the agriculture sector benefit from the support of Agriculture Canada’s Market Access Secretariat, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canadian Grain Commission and AAFC’s trade support staff in foreign missions.   Increasingly, we see these agencies strained to keep up with the demand from the sector for assistance in export markets.  In many cases, this is work that is not substitutable by other means.  For example, the CFIA has a very unique role, as Canada’s official plant protection organization, for negotiating with its counterparts around the world and applying sound science to trade related issues.  Its international role is important to agriculture market access but its focus is dominated by domestic regulatory issues.

While improved market access, enhanced trade and more investments in research will continue to be our industry’s top priorities, it is also important to address new challenges and themes facing Canadian agriculture.

Despite the excellent track record our industry has on stewardship and safety, we understand that the public is increasingly calling for more information and transparency.  It is important that the agriculture sector maintain the trust of consumers.   It is up to our sector to explain and build awareness and we share this responsibility with the government.  The next APF should assist with the development of vehicles to bring consumers, governments, civil society together with the farm community.  It should assist in developing certification systems standards to demonstrate best practices being followed in the sector.

Likewise, Canadian agriculture has to do its part in addressing climate change, and we are.  When it comes to stewardship of our natural resources, we have a lot to talk about.  Since 1981, Canadian soybean production land use efficiency has increased by 16 percent.   Over the same period, farmers have improved the net carbon footprint per unit of soybean output by 11 percent and soybean growers are using 26 percent less energy in crop production.

But we need to keep this up and demonstrate to the public that we are doing these things.  Canadians have concerns with the use of technology in the production of their food, and its understandable but just look to the efficiencies and productive capacity facilitated by today’s “precision agriculture”.  Mobile applications, variable rate technology, GPS and drone technology are allowing farmers to make continuous improvements to their farm and be more precise and efficient with the use of chemicals and other farm inputs, greatly enhancing sustainability of production.

It is important that new climate change and environmental sustainability initiatives in the APF are industry-led and are compatible with industry interests.  Particularly that they are national in scope and do not create competitive imbalances between regions.

So we support the addition of these new themes in the agriculture policy framework while maintaining strong support for market access, trade and research programming.

As industry expands, so too must the APF and the support it offers to Canadian agriculture.  It is important not to move support away from successful programs that have served our industry well, but rather to add to the toolkit available that will provide Canadian agriculture the additional resources to address emerging issues in their business practices. We will continue to be part of the discussion that shapes how the APF will unfold and maintain the success from the existing policy framework.

I hope I have shown how the current APF is so important to the current, exciting growth of the Canadian soybean sector and why we need to continue, refine and improve it. Thank you and I look forward to your questions.