Farmers of North America was formed because the federal agencies that are supposed to help producers have failed to do their jobs, says FNA president and CEO James Mann.
The Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Farm Credit and the Competition Bureau are responsible for making the market for farm products and supplies fairer for producers, he told the Commons agriculture committee recently. “Part of the reason that we exist today is because we don’t feel they’ve really done their job to the best that they could have.”
The competitive position of Canadian farmers has diminished considerably compared to producers in other countries because of high input costs and low prices for their livestock and grains, he said. FNA tries to balance that marketplace by negotiating bulk purchases of fertilizers and other inputs.
A study done by the Ridgetown Campus at the University of Guelph outlines massive differences between the United States and Canada on the cost of basic inputs such as fertilizer, chemicals, seed, and fuel, he said. The study’s findings should inspire MPs “to see what needs to be done” about the prices of farm inputs.
Mann said the Competition Bureau always favours large corporations over small and medium-size business in its rulings, even though it’s the latter that propels the economy. The bureau wants “to see our big businesses be able to compete with other big businesses around the world, but unfortunately when they do that – and they create it in such a way that they have such a large control of the marketplace so they can price to what the market will bear – it affects the competitiveness of the small and medium-size businesses, including farmers. It makes us less competitive around the world. This needs to be put in check.”
The best fix would be to give the Competition Bureau “the same kind of teeth that the U. S. has and let’s get on with making this economy competitive and make us much better in the world. We have some of the best farmers in the world and they need the tools and you can help them get there.”
In fertilizers, “we’re seeing the cost of production relative to the market price being almost double what it should be if you were to have a true competitive industry,” he said. FNA has imported boatloads of fertilizer through the ports of Montreal and Churchill which “probably saved $100 to $150 a tonne on nitrogen fertilizers.”
Another initiative FNA would like to work on is importing generic pesticides, but it is waiting for PMRA to finish drafting regulations to allow imports of copies of chemical that have come off patent, he said. The agency is suggesting a period of up to 240 days during which the original developer and the generic manufacturer can try to reach agreement on copies coming onto the market. In the United States, generic products are available as soon as the original patent expires.
“The problem is that crop protection products are seasonal, and 120 days can mean a full season,” he said. “That literally is tens of millions of dollars. So there is an opportunity to put some pressure on the PMRA by this committee to talk about how and why generics should be able to come into the marketplace right away.”
FNA is owned by Mann and his brother and charges $600 a year for membership. “We represent approximately 8,000 farmers across Canada, about 15 million acres of production.” He said the group is looking into marketing of grains. “We are doing things like trying to find ways of putting lentils and chickpeas and peas into other products that can be used in that ingredient market, and moving our members up the chain. So we have a foods division.”