Hon. Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Minister, welcome to the Senate. It’s always good to have you here. I wouldn’t object to you having a permanent seat with us when a vacancy occurs.
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, of which I am a long-time member, has been studying the potential impact of climate change on the agriculture, agri-food and forestry sectors. We have heard many concerns from many witnesses. Producers, for example, have told us how changes in climate are already affecting them: quick melts, flooding, extreme weather events, having to change crop varieties to suit new local conditions better, or refining their pest management strategies.
Minister, Canadian farmers are perennially adaptive, but overwhelmingly, they told us that they could use government support when facing these new challenges.
What measures are you and your department undertaking to address the impact of these climate change issues on the Canadian agriculture sector so that it can continue to thrive for years to come?
Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, P.C., M.P., Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food: Thank you very much, senator. I appreciate your question. I can assure you, as a farmer, we learn to adapt. Farmers are the most innovative people in the world. In fact, if you’re going to survive as a farmer, you have to be innovative.
I appreciate your question and the work that the Senate has done on this issue. As we’re all aware, we only have one place to live, as far as we know; this is it. Last year we dealt with an area in Western Canada where they had massive floods, and shortly after that, there was a big fire.
These things are so disastrous. We did address these issues with the federal-provincial programs, with the business risk management programs. We addressed them and we paid some money to the farmers. But we didn’t address the problem. All we say, in the end, is the government paid some money, but you never really pay what the farmer loses. You never do. The thing is that there’s so much of a loss when you have fire and these types of things, and then the farmer is asked to put a list down of what all he has lost. I just know the way it is. A year later, he goes to get that piece of equipment that is $2,000 or $3,000: “I forgot to put that in.” That’s simply how it is, and I understand that fully, being a farmer.
But what we have done in the last two and a half years hopefully will be helpful, and we must continue. We invested $100 million in agricultural research. That itself, of course, is dealing with part of the problem that you’re talking about. But also it’s talking about the issue of what agriculture and agri-food scientists have done over the years. One small example, senators, is the canola seed. We developed that here in this country. That has brought billions of dollars into the agricultural sector in this country and around the world. Then, there’s swath grazing. It’s so interesting to look at that. I was touring out in Western Canada. What they do with feeder cattle is they grow a certain grain crop and cut enough just for the cattle to eat. Then they move it back and back. That’s how the cattle graze for the winter. It reduces the environmental footprint. It means that you don’t have to run tractors in order to bail; you don’t have to run tractors to run the hay into the buildings. All of this type of thing is so important.
Also, we invested $27 million in the agricultural greenhouse gas and $25 million in the Agricultural Clean Technology Program. All of these issues help to create economy, too. When you’re dealing with the environment, you’re also creating economy. All of this is so important.
The end result is we only have one place to live, and we have to make sure that the farmer — again, I might add that there are so many other things when you talk about precision agriculture, making sure that land does not wash into the waterways. Years ago, you would see — and perhaps even to this day — the river being red. Not only is the farmer losing a lot of money, but we’re killing the fish that are in the water. So we have made an awful lot of moves over the last number of years to make sure that we address these types of problems, and we must continue to make sure we do because everything is changing.
On the innovation side, everybody is innovating. We’re not the only ones, but we must do that.