Mr. Chairman, the time has come to vote those estimates, and if we look at the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Greene), we see a man plunged in deep meditation. It is probably because looking over the work done during the year, the minister is wondering if he has done a good job, if the members of the opposition, as well as his Liberal colleagues, are happy with his work and if the people in general approve of what has been done in 1966 in the field of agriculture.
[DOT] (3:30 p.m.)
If we look back, I think we can say that something worthwhile has been done in agriculture this year. I want at this time to congratulate the minister who worked hard, I know, to reach the objective he had set for himself; if he did not reach it, it is because perfection is not of this world. We ask a man to do what he can and, in my opinion, the minister fulfilled his duty well, although it is a very difficult one, and has been so particularly in the last two or three years. We have gone through lean years what with everything that happened to our farmers, all the hardship they had, due to the weather and the market,
and in spite of all that we managed to come out of it fairly well.
I sit on the committee on agriculture, forestry and rural development and I have insisted on being a member ever since I came to the house. I think the committee does marvellous work. I see here the minister's officials who have answered the numerous questions put to them by the committee members without ever showing any embarrassment. I must congratulate all those people who work so heartily in trying to raise the farmers' standard of living.
Mr. Chairman, I should like to put one or two points to the minister. I am sure he has often been able to notice failures within an organization; failures which are only normal and human.
Milk and cream subsidies are undertakings which have occasioned much work to the hon. members and to the department. They gave rise to a very heavy correspondence with the farmers in our constituencies as we were trying to adjust the deficiency payments to arrive at a regular payment as promised by the minister. I had to go to the Farm Credit Corporation to try to settle some one hundred cases in my constituency, as soon as possible. The issue was the late payment of the premiums.
I believe the minister should rather advise the Farm Credit Corporation to keep an eye on the processors. I believe the last delays we had were mainly due to them.
They submit their reports to the board late-probably involuntarily-and, that causes corresponding delays in the payment of subsidies; sometimes there is a one-month delay and other times, two months, it all depends on the date upon which the reports are received.
I for one am not ready to put the blame on the producer, far from it; I believe, having discussed this problem with the parties concerned, that these delays occurred particularly at the processing plant. I submit that the department should issue very strict orders to all processing plants, so that they may be made to fill in and forward their forms, fill in all the lines. I personally had to settle cases where the processor had overlooked two or three items in the one form. Therefore, the board will have to issue orders to processors so that we may have their co-operation towards sound administration of the payments.
Second, we note, particularly in the province of Quebec-elsewhere in Canada too but mostly in the province of Quebec-a decrease in milk production. The explanation for that decrease is a mystery to no one; first, in my
November 25, 1966
area-since I must speak of my riding-we had those artificial rainfalls pouring over our heads for the past two or three years. Last year it, only lasted seventeen or eighteen days, and farmers harvested a crop such as they had not seen for more than four years. I think the minister must keep on checking the situation and even go so far as to forbid completely in our area those artificial rainfalls which, for two or three years, were responsible for the disastrous situation in our district. As a result, most of the farmers were forced to cut their herd by 50 per cent, if not more, because the land had yielded about 30 to 35 per cent of what it produced before the well-remembered rainfalls, and that was the main cause of the decrease in the number of cattle.
I admit that the government helped save as many of the cattle as possible, but that assistance was not sufficient in our areas. Proof of that lies in the fact that farmers reduced their herds by 50 per cent, not by pure whim, but because they were forced to do so, since they could not feed them. If the government had assessed the needs on a regional basis, I think it would have found out that our area was in much greater need of help than certain other parts of the province of Quebec.
[DOT] (3:40 p.m.)
We are faced today with a shortage of butter and a sharp decrease in milk production. That in my opinion, is due to the lack of a serious initial study designed to maintain our herds at a normal level and to enable Quebec to produce at least the milk and butter it consumes.
There is a further reason why assistance was called for in our area, and it is the famous outbreak of brucellosis which affected the district. I know farmers who had to replace twice herds of 60, 65, 70 head of cattle because brucellosis was rampant, and I believe those farmers were ruined even though they received help. It is not enough to replace cattle or pay compensation for its replacement; those farmers lost their contracts for lack of cattle, because they were deprived of the required assistance.
I spoke about it during the outbreak; I mentioned it several times last year when the government was only granting $50 for a milch-cow, the replacement value of which was $300, or $70 when the maximum amount for an ordinary cross-breed milch-cow was $70, and $140 for a purebred. In my opinion, that assistance as absolutely insufficient. Of course, it made up for the cost of the cattle but it did not enable the farmer to honour his
contracts. By thus losing his contracts, he was losing 50 per cent of his income and finally, he was almost faced with bankruptcy, because most of those farmers were compelled to convert their herd in to a beef cattle herd.
Mr. Chairman, if the great havoc which the disease has wrought in our area had been the subject of a serious study at that time, the department would surely have increased its assistance and even amended the act because it is outdated, as it now stands. Under the act, the loss of a milch-cow is assessed at $70, which was good 15 years ago, but not today.
I believe the act should have been updated to assist those farmers and to prevent the present price drop. I hope the minister will re-examine this famous act to prevent a repetition of this situation should another outbreak occur; it could be amended to provide subsidies on the basis of the present cost of cattle or milch-cows.
Another problem I should like to point out to the minister-and I do not want to take up too much time-concerns the potato crop in my region. Two or three years ago, several farmers began growing potatoes. Their crop, especially this year, was excellent, but the sales are not as good. We realized this fall that we had no markets at all. Since the minister has established the Canadian Livestock Feed Board, I believe it is time to set up a board for Quebec products in order to guarantee the producers the sale of their production, for I believe we shall witness this winter the loss of great quantities of potatoes. This fall, the crop is sold at 50 cents for 75 lbs, which is far below production costs, and I think 50 per cent of the farmers will not be able to sell their crop for the year even at 50 cents because there is no market.
I am drawing the minister's attention to this matter because something must be done about it, and immediately. If the farmers who have invested everything they had in potato growing in the last year or two are not helped now, what will happen next year? They will not grow any, there will be another shortage and potatoes will have to be imported, whereas our area can produce them not only in sufficient quantity to satisfy the local demand but also the export market.
Our soil is particularly suited to potato growing, and I think the minister should consider this matter and assure those who, in the past year or two, have invested money in this and who have built storehouses at a cost of $10,000, $15,000 and even $20,000, that the potatoes they have grown will not rot in their capacity-filled storehouses. I know that all we
November 25, 1966
have to do at the present is to call the minister's attention to this matter, for the wellbeing of farmers is very important to him, not only in the province of Quebec, but throughout Canada, and I am confident that he will do something this fall to try and help them.
Just a few words in passing about the Farm Credit Corporation. I would have much to say about this corporation, but I would simply ask the minister to order an investigation into activity of the Farm Credit Corporation. I do not suggest that everything is wrong. A good and I would say a marvellous job is being done in some areas, but I say errors are committed which are detrimental to agriculture. For instance, I have submitted a case on which I have finally been informed that the investigation was being resumed. In some cases, one wonders whether it is not the purpose of some inspectors and investigators to drive farmers away from their farms, instead of helping them.
Two young men who operate a marvellous farm, who have a large flock, have just built, at their own expense, a large potato cellar costing $10,000. Now, they cannot meet their commitments. They applied for assistance to this federal agancy and they were told that no help could be provided. After those people have made sacrifices for two years, they are told that nothing whatsoever can be done for them and to declare themselves bankrupt.
Mr. Chairman, it is not by bankruptcies that farmers are going to thrive. I hope that what I have referred to will be settled, because a second investigation is under way, and I ask the minister-without rushing matters, because I do not want to criticize anybody-to send over some of the competent men in his department to make sure that everything runs smoothly, that everything is done in an orderly manner for, in my opinion, there are some shortcomings that remain unexplained.
I had intended to talk about farm machinery but previous speakers covered that subject fully. I wish to say only that it is imperative that the Minister of Agriculture should exercise or set up some control over the price of farm machinery because it is on account of the price of farm implements that farmers get so deeply into debt. As a matter of fact, it is another reason for the failure of agriculture at the present time. I think that there is a way for the federal government to control those prices which are certainly too high. I sold farm machinery myself for 20 years and I cannot understand at all the prices of machinery today compared to what they were 15 years ago.
If some control must be set up, I urge the minister to avail himself of the means at his disposal; prices should be controlled or farmers helped directly to allow them to acquire the machinery they need to work their farms or their land as economically as possible.
[DOT] (3:50 p.m.)