I’m a proud Canadian. I’m also a dairy farmer. I farm with my family, and our kids dream of farming themselves one day. I have dairy farming friends all around the world, many in the USA. Borders do not seem to matter to friendships; we’ve shared experiences and information, and celebrated successes and achievements with each other, irrespective of which side of the 49th parallel our farms are located. It’s understandable, then, that we hate to see our farming friends hurting and scared. You see, there’s been some very scary developments in the US dairy industry, specifically in Wisconsin. We’ve read with shock and dismay of the 75 farms that were dropped by their processor with just one month’s notice to find a new home for the milk that their cows produce. These are farmers with families, with bills to pay, with dreams and hopes for the future – just like their dairy farming compatriots across America and also up here in Canada. They also dream of seeing their children take up dairy farming in the future, but they now face the very real prospect of those dreams never becoming a reality. Their hurt is our hurt because we can understand just how painful this experience must be.
Farming is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that we pour our whole selves into; our farms and our cows and our land are our life, our heartbeat, our hope for the future.
Seeing these dreams dashed and hopes destroyed is devastating, regardless of your nationality.
Allow me to briefly explain this issues at hand that have resulted in this situation. For years, several processors in the USA have exploited a loop hole in the trade regulations that control dairy imports into Canada. They’ve shipped a product called ultra- or dia-filtered milk north to Canadian cheese plants. Classified as an ingredient at the border, this product was able to pass our border controls tariff-free. However, once the product arrived at the processing plant, the classification was changed to dairy in order to be permitted for use under the Canadian cheese standards, which regulate which percentage of cheese ingredients must come from milk. This situation was causing our Canadian processors to forego using Canadian milk for their cheese, and sourcing the cheaper US diafiltered milk, reconstituting it, and using it in the cheese and other dairy products. As you can understand, this resulted in a loss to Canadian dairy farmers as our milk was no longer being used in this cheese – and it was no small sum either, some pin it at over $230 million annually! Over the past few years, our provincial and federal milk boards and committees have worked hard to create a way to encourage our processors to resume using Canadian milk. We’ve created a new class of milk that is priced at the world milk price. Now that our milk is financially competitive, several processors have dropped the American product and are sourcing all Canadian milk. We have not, as some sources claim, added import tariffs to the American ultra-filtered milk, we’ve simply made our milk the same price. Again, to repeat, no new tariffs have been created that would restrict USA access to the Canadian market. Canadian businesses have the right to choose their suppliers, just like American companies do. Business decisions may also be influenced by the fact that the American dollar, when it is high like it is now, makes it more expensive for Canadian businesses to buy American. This new pricing mechanism was adopted in Ontario last year, with the rest of Canada following suit several months later. US processors knew of our plans. It was no secret; there were several news sources on both sides of the border reporting on our efforts. Now that Canadian processors have resumed sourcing Canadian milk products for cheese, these American processors are left with unwanted filtered milk, and that has resulted in this terrible situation for those farmers. As many American farmers have accurately pointed out, the problem is not Canada’s dairy industry; the problem is the excess milk on the world market. The US needs to manage their excess dairy production more efficiently to prevent surpluses and this type of waste.
At this time, I’m incredibly grateful for our supply management system. With our system, if demand for milk falls, all producer quotas are reduced; individual farms are not dropped by processors. In my opinion, it’s a fair system that offers stability to farmers; stability that is necessary for innovation, growth, and the sustainability of the industry. I’ve read various comments from American farmers lamenting that fact that there is no such system in the US.
In my opinion, it’s not fair to blame Canadian dairy farmers or our supply management system for looking out for our own industry and attempting to regain the share of the market that once was ours. I’m sure it should be obvious that this is not a time to point fingers or to adopt an “us vs them” mentality. At the same time, while our hearts go out to the farmers affected, we also need to look to our own farms and realize that we too need to make a living and ensure that our Canadian dairy industry remains viable. I don’t claim to have answers or solutions to this problem. But I know that right now, those farmers dropped by their processors don’t need blame or acrimony, they need support and understanding and sympathy. They need help to find a new home for their milk, and I hope with all my heart that they will find a way to continue shipping milk and caring for their animals, land, and families.