Farming is in this five-year-old farm boy’s blood. No doubt about that! Farming is a lifestyle, not just a job, and it’s driven by a love for the land and animals that often runs strong and true through the generations. If his dreams come true and he takes over our farm one day, he’ll be a sixth generation dairy farmer.
But what does the future look like for him? Around the world, the dairy prospects are currently very grim for aspiring dairy farmers, established dairy farmers, even five-year-old dairy dreamers. The world milk price is very very low, depressed by a huge glut of excess milk on the world market, thus driving farm gate prices down below the cost of production. Around the world – the US, EU, New Zealand, Australia – dairy farmers are producing milk at a loss. Many have been forced to give up their dream, closing their barn doors forever, shipping their animals off to auction. They just cannot continue to run a business while losing money hand over fist, regardless of how much they love their animals and land and farm.
Thankfully, here in Canada we are blessed to farm under different circumstances. Under our stable and secure supply managed system, farm gate prices have remained fairly stable. Our milk price is determined by the cost of production, not by the world milk price. Still, there are threats looming over our enviable system also.
Supply management is based on three pillars that ensure that our system works effectively:
1 Production management that matches supply with Canadian demand.
2 Predictable imports to ensure Canadian dairy market requirements are primarily met by Canadian milk production.
3 Farm gate prices that provide a reasonable return that covers production costs. Canadian dairy farmers do not rely on taxpayer subsidies.
Unfortunately the second pillar, government management of imports, has been slowly eroding over the past few years. A modified dairy product called diafiltered milk has been flowing over our borders tarriff-free because it has been classified as an ingredient at the border. That’s all fine and dandy, but once this ‘ingredient’ arrives at the processing plant, suddenly it is treated as ‘milk’. Canada’s dairy processors are required to adhere to our cheese standards, which require that a set percentage of each type of cheese must come from ‘milk’ while the remainder can be made up other ‘ingredients’. So this diafiltered milk, classified as an ingredient at the border, suddenly is re-classified at the processing plant as milk to meet the minimum milk percentage requirements. Not really fair, is it? And it’s not just small change we’re talking about here, but rather a huge hit to Canada’s dairy farmers, to the tune of 231 million dollars per year, and climbing.
There have also been troubling rumblings in the political world of late. Government support has historically been a critical part of supply management working well. This is why I, along with my fellow Canadian dairy farmers, have also been extremely unsettled to hear of a certain Member of Parliament’s recent attack on our system. This MP has shown little understanding for the current world dairy situation and has intimated that our Canadian dairy farmers would do well to imitate Australia’s example and dismantle supply management. Obviously he has not been following the news as the situation Down Under is very grim at the moment, not an ideal dairy utopia in the least! I don’t want to call extra attention to this MP and his stance on supply management by addressing these inaccurate and concerning comments, but still feel that Canadians should be aware of the battles facing dairy farmers, both at present and possibly in the future.
Just like an old fashioned three legged milking stool, our system only works if all three legs or pillars are strong and stable. Allowing one of these pillars to weaken or erode will unsettle supply management and even has the potential to topple the whole system, plunging Canadian dairy farmers into the turbulent and uncertain waters currently engulfing our international dairy farming compatriots. If that should happen, our five-year-old farm boy’s dream of following in our dairy farming footsteps would meet a sudden and heartbreaking end. Our small family farm would likely be unable to compete with the glut of foreign-government-subsidized milk flooding the world’s dairy market, and perhaps we too would be forced to close our barn doors and say goodbye to our cows and our way of life. We were unable to join our fellow Canadian dairy farmers drawing attention to these issues at the dairy rally in Ottawa last week and so are doing what we can to express our concerns in other ways, including here on social media. We’re calling on our government to show support to Canadian dairy farmers by enforcing the cheese standards and committing to continued support for our system.The Canadian dairy industry is a huge and beneficial contributor to our country’s economy and social fabric and we feel that as such we’ve earned our government’s support. Fellow Canadians, please join us in voicing your support for your Dairy Farmers of Canada. I’m sure none of us, farmers and consumers together, want to see our family farms disappear from our nation’s landscape.