Supply Management IV: will new NAFTA be our nemesis? 

Some of you have been asking for our thoughts on the latest news coming out of the NAFTA negotiations. And honestly? I’ve been too disheartened to even write about it. We’re scared. Scared about our futures, scared about our children’s futures. As relatively new additions to the dairy industry – we’ve been dairying for less than 15 years, only 6.5 years on our own – we carry a massive debt load. That’s all fine and dandy under the stability of our supply management system, and it should be paid off before our children would potentially take over the reins of the family farm. However, should that stability vanish, as the latest US demands for the abolishment of our entire system would entail, our farm would very possibly cease to exist. 

And why? Our system ensures a stable, fair price for farmers. It also has meant that consumers – and we’re consumers too! – have paid a competitive, fair price for dairy products in the grocery stores. It has allowed Canadian farmers to develop a top notch program that ensures that our dairy farms are held to the highest milk quality, food safety, and animal welfare standards in the world. Our system has helped hundreds of young and not-so-young dairymen and women get a leg up into the industry through various provincial new entrant programs. There are so many benefits to our system! Is it perfect? No! But it’s always changing and adapting to new situations. And quite frankly, it’s the best system out there. Around the world, dairy farmers are struggling to make ends meet. In New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Europe, and the USA dairy farmers are exiting the industry in droves, no longer able to keep their farms afloat after sustained low global milk prices. 

So why attack our industry? It doesn’t make sense to me. The world is awash in a glut of milk. Farmers around the world have been producing more and more milk, all just trying to make ends meet. But now there’s a huge over-supply. Canada’s market look mighty attractive; a good place to dump that excess. But that won’t solve the problem! With only 30 million consumers, 10x LESS than the US, our market would quickly be saturated with this foreign milk, and the problem would still be there. Except now, our small Canadian family farms would be forced out of business, unable to compete with the glut of milk pouring over the border at abnormally low prices. Our complete rural fabric would be torn apart. It’s not just the farmers who would suffer; it would be the feed companies, the veterinarians, the dairy supply companies. In short, it would mean large scale devastation of many rural communities. Instead, these governments eyeing up and demanding the end of our system should fix their problems at home. Manage your supply. There’s no need to over-produce; it’s just plain wasteful and it’s detrimental to the global dairy industry. When supply and demand are balanced, we all win: farmers, consumers, governments, and national economies. 

We’ll be watching the next NAFTA negotiation rounds with bated breath. We are most definitely thankful that so far our government has been vocal about their determination to protect supply management, and we hope and pray that these words will be reflected in their actions at the negotiating table. To our supporters: thank you. Thank you for your moral support. And thank you for continuing to support your local dairy farms with your purchasing habits. We wouldn’t be farming and living this dairy life, caring for our cows with dedication without you behind us! 

For now, we continue on. Our kids still follow us around the barns, helping out when they so wish, learning to do by doing. Will this knowledge and these skills ever be put to use one day? Will they ever follow their dreams to be just like mom and dad? I don’t know. Time will tell. 

British Columbia is burning. Please pray!

A state of emergency has been declared for our beautiful home province of British Columbia. A prolonged period of dry and very hot weather has brought tinder-dry conditions to much of the province, prompting officials to raise the wildfire risk to extreme in many areas and to ban all outdoor burning, including campfires and even tiki torches. But hundreds of dry lightning strikes over the past two days led to the sparking of 138 (!!) new wildfires yesterday. Several of these fires are “interface fires”, ie a threat to homes, communities, infrastructure, etc. Thousands have been forced to flee their homes and farms and ranches in the fires’ paths. Highways are closed due to the fires and smoke. Homes have burned. These fires are vigorous, unpredictable, and voracious, destroying everything in their paths. 

Yesterday, we heard that our childhood friend had been forced from her ranch that was directly in one of the fire’s paths. They chased their cows into a swampy area and left their home with their children and dogs, with nothing to do but pray that their home and animals would escape the raging inferno. They posted photos and video clips of the fire approaching their ranch as they left. Imagine their profound joy and thankfulness as they were able to return home this morning to their house intact, their cattle alive. Such a blessing!

Contrast that joy with the devastation felt by our fellow dairy farmers who lost their entire farm in another wildfire yesterday afternoon. They were able to rescue nearly all of the cows, but their home, barns, crops, even their irrigation equipment, is all gone, destroyed by the greedy blaze. Devastating. Unimaginable. There really are no words to adequately describe what they’re going through.

There is another fire burning in our vicinity, up on the east side of Harrison Lake. That fire too is not contained, but as of yet is not threatening any communities or homes. It’s far enough away with enough mountains between us as a barrier that it is not a worry, but it definitely is unsettling to think that our home and farm too could be lost in an instant to a blaze like that one.

Please, friends, keep our province, our communities, our farmers and ranchers in your prayers. Pray too for the safety of the brave men and women battling these blazes. Thank you.

Supply Management: Good for farmers, good for consumers, good for Canada. Hands off, Bernier!

Okay friends, we’re coming down to the wire here in the Conservative leadership race. With all of the uproar in the last week with President Trump taking aim at our Canadian dairy industry, we can’t forget that we also have domestic challenges facing our industry. Just this morning, Canadian businessman and Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’ Leary, one of the polling front-runners in the leadership race, pulled his name from the race and threw his support behind Maxime Bernier. As you know from our previous posts, Maxime Bernier has pledged to end supply management if he is elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, and Mr. O’ Leary had admitted that he would use supply management as a bargaining tool in future trade negotiations. Both he and Mr. O’ Leary are leading in the polls, so as you can understand, this bolstering of Bernier’s campaign is rather unsettling.

Supply management keeps Canadian dairy, poultry and egg farms vibrant, viable, and an integral part of our national fabric, from both a social and economic perspective. Without supply management and our border tarriffs, our family farms would have a very hard time competing with the glut of excess milk currently flooding the world dairy market. We know that our system that ensures a fair return for farmers is the envy of dairy farmers around the world, and we personally have received many messages from farmers south of the Canadian – US border who long for a system like ours that would allow their farms to remain viable in this turbulent time for the dairy market.

So the benefits for farmers are obvious, but what about for our consumers? Mr. Bernier alleges that if supply management were scrapped, consumers would pay much less for their dairy; he’s even claimed that Canadian consumers pay twice the amount they should pay for their dairy products. Unfortunately, Mr. Bernier does not have his facts straight. Check out the photos I’ve posted below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both research from an accredited research firm and very current anecdotal evidence from a fellow dairy farmer doing her own research prove that Canadians pay a very competitive price for their eggs and dairy. In fact, if we compare apples to apples, Canadian pay LESS for dairy compared to the same dairy products in the US (all Canadian milk is produced without the use of artificial growth hormones). Now, Mr. Bernier, either you’ve been misinformed, or you’re deliberately trying to garner support from unsuspecting Canadians by quoting “alternative facts”.  Judging by the number of times dairy farmers and industry representatives have presented the correct information to you, I’m leaning towards the latter assumption. That doesn’t say much for your integrity, and, in my opinion, throws your entire campaign and character into question. Definitely not the type of individual I want to see at the helm of the Conservative party or – if the Conservatives are re-elected in 2019 – leading our country.

Friends, let’s get the word out! We’re not only facing threats to our family farms from south of the border, we have a very real challenge right here at home too. If you want to enjoy the stable, competitive dairy prices that are the current reality, produced right here in Canada according to the highest safety, quality and animal welfare standards in the world — all the while benefitting family farms and rural economies across our country, speak up! Canadians need to understand that a vote for Bernier is a vote against food sovereignty, against family farms, and against the very fabric of our rural communities. Your help in sharing this message is appreciated.

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discouraged but not defeated

Summer is drawing to a close. The golden light of late summer is wonderful for farm photography — even those pesky flies are somewhat beautiful when backlit by warm rays of evening sunshine.

But as beautiful as this scene may be, walking back to the house last night after evening chores I was feeling uninspired and truth be told…discouraged. You see, I’ve been following the drama that has been unfolding in Toronto this past week, and it has me contemplating our efforts to provide an insight into animal agriculture. If you aren’t aware of what has been going on, here is a short summary: In June 2015, an animal rights activist group was standing on a traffic island near a Toronto slaughter house to “bear witness” to the animals going to slaughter, as part of a weekly “vigil” of the Toronto Pig Save. When a truck carrying pigs stopped at the traffic light, one of the activists began trying to give water to the pigs inside the truck. The truck driver stepped out of his truck and confronted the activist. A tense exchange of words and threats followed. The activist, strategically being video taped, claimed that the pigs were suffering and dehydrated. The truck driver told her not to give the pigs water because he had no proof that what she was offering the pigs was indeed water, and asked her to desist. Ignoring him, the activist continued to pour water over the pigs’ snouts. The next day, the farmer contacted the police. Following an investigation, the activist has been charged with mischief for pouring an “unknown liquid” into the trailer.

The whole story seems unbelievable. Why should someone be prosecuted for simply giving a helpless, suffering animal some water?  Why should someone face a fine and/or jail time for showing compassion? That’s what the animal rights activists would have you believe. And at face value, it seems like they have a point. However, look at this from other aspects. With regards to food safety, how could the driver know for certain that it was indeed pure water in the bottle? What if it was laced with another substance – antibiotics perhaps?  No, this is not a delusional fear — I’ve had activists threaten to secretly inject my cows with antibiotics so that their milk would be unfit for human consumption, and they told me that they hoped it would cause me to lose my license to ship milk. We need to understand that these groups want to see the end of using animals for food, and in my experience they would have few qualms about using nefarious means to do so, including introducing toxins into the food chain under the guise of compassion. The farmer also raised a good point in court that this practice of giving the animals water presented a safety threat to the activists themselves. What if the truck pulled away from the stop light and an activist’s arm remained in the truck? What if the activist was run over and gravely injured? Who would be at fault then?

Now, allow me to encourage you to dig a little deeper yet. It has become quite obvious to me that the activists actually welcome this lawsuit. Judging by the hoards of protesters in court, they’re using this trial as an opportunity to further their agenda. Their trial strategy adds credence to this line of thought: they plan to ask the judge to view a virtual reality video that depicts the inside of a slaughterhouse from an animal’s point of view. This trial has morphed into something much more than a simple mischief lawsuit. It has become a grandstand for the activists to air their opinion that using animals for food is unethical.

So why am I discouraged? As you can gather, I’m well acquainted with the activists’ opinion of animal agriculture. I know that they will do anything to further their agenda. This is nothing new. But what has me so bothered are the comments that I’ve read about this trial. It’s not just militant vegans and activists spouting these lies and accusations. Members of the non-farming public seem to just lap up these accusations of rampant animal cruelty on farms and then regurgitate these lies as the truth. I’ve read comments like this: “You farmers only see dollar signs when you look at your animals, not individual beings that feel pain.” “Nobody checks on farming regulations, it’s a hidden dark secret in this country and it all needs to be exposed.” “These animals are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics anyway, so how can the farmer pretend to be concerned about possible toxins in the water this angel offered to these poor suffering animals.” “I eat meat, but I feel guilty doing so, because I know that this food is a product of abuse and mistreatment.” These comments hurt. They might be directed at another industry, but we’re all farmers. It doesn’t matter if it’s poultry, pork, dairy, or crops — when one farmer is attacked, we all feel the pain. When the credibility and integrity of one farmer or industry is called into question, all farmers bristle with outrage. We spend our lives doing our utmost to provide the best care possible for our animals, but sometimes it seems like it doesn’t matter, because some would rather believe that we are heartless, cruel, money-hungry sadists.

I guess this is why filming this video last night left me discouraged. Good news about great animal welfare, and happy, healthy cows treated with respect and compassion just doesn’t make the news. The stories and photos I share on social media are met with appreciation by our followers, but they never make waves in the news the way this story does. Good news just doesn’t sell. And because of this, the lies and myths about animal farming continue to spread. Sometimes this makes me wonder if the time I spend opening our barn doors and sharing our farm stories transparently is even worth it. Does it even matter? Will it make a difference?

And then, this morning I watched a short video of a friend demonstrating milking a cow at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver. I saw the wonder and interest in the spectators’ faces and heard the amazement in their “oohs” and “aahs” as the milk filled the reception pail. 3 million people visit this fair every year, and they all can see real farming first hand with this display. Watching this helped. I know that not everyone has a poor opinion about farming and farmers. I know that our work is valued and appreciated. I know that the comments I read do not accurately represent the general public.  I guess I just need to focus on the good and on the important. I might have become a little more jaded and a tad more cynical, but I know in my heart that the real stories about farming do matter. Our consumers matter. Our animals matter. And farmers matter because farmers truly do care.

This is not meant to be a rant or a “poor me” type of post but rather an opportunity to share with you that opening our barn doors to give you a glimpse at our farm life is not always easy, and sometimes can be down right discouraging. I find that too often I share only the nice and uplifting stories, but I think it’s important for you to understand that not all days on the farm are good days and that farmers have feelings too.

But in spite of all this, I have decided that yes, I will continue to share our farm life with you. This experience has shown me once again just how important our real farm stories are. In the face of mounting misinformation and lies, we must commit to ensuring that the truth is shared and broadcasted for all to hear and see. That truth is this: we farm with a love for our land and for our animals. We farm for you and your family and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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He’s the Face of Canada’s Future Dairy Farmers… but will he realize his dream?


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.

Respect is a Two-Way Street

What would you do if you noticed a local celebrity sharing a blog post that calls into question your integrity? Would you respond with anger? With outrage? Or would you take a minute to calm yourself and respond with kindness and respect?

Recently, a local news anchor shared a post from Mercy for Animals on Facebook. Mercy for Animals is an animal rights group. Like all of these types of groups, Mercy for Animals campaigns for the cessation of all animal agriculture. They do so by sharing opinions that are biased and slanted against animal agriculture, using wording like this: “As shocking as it may seem, sexual assault and stealing babies are common in modern animal agriculture”. They share horrific videos of animal abuse, claiming that abuse is common practice on farms. And they promote a vegan diet that eliminates all animal products.

This local news anchor is a celebrity in her own right. She’s been featured on local television for nearly 20 years and has gained many well-earned accolades for her work. She is a respected advocate for Down Syndrome and blogs about her life as a mom of three. In short, she’s an esteemed and popular voice in British Columbia. As such, she has a large following on social media.

So you can imagine that when she shared that she was having misgivings about consuming dairy products after reading a Mercy for Animals blog post that accused dairy farmers of abusive practices, I was dismayed. In fact, I was hurt, upset, appalled and, truth be told, angry. Not at her, but at these animal rights groups. These groups smear my honor, my integrity. I’m proud of my life as a dairy farmer. I’m proud of the stellar care we give to our cows – our “girls” – 365 days of the year. And I’m proud to provide my fellow citizens with a nutritious product that was produced ethically and responsibly. I know that there is nothing un-ethical or cruel about the way our cows are treated on our family farm.

Happily, there was a saving grace in this post:

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I read this post as a call for help, for assurance. I saw someone who desperately wanted to learn more about the food she served her family and consumed herself. I saw an opportunity. I could have responded with heated words and recriminations. And I saw some of those types of comments. But I calmed myself. This was not the time to be angry. This was the time to convince and reassure and support. It was a time to “err on the side of kindness”.

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And, as it turns out, it was the right thing to do. I soon received this message:

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This was huge. I was so excited. Success!
The next day, this appeared on her page:

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The hours I spent responding to comments and accusations on this post was time well spent! If I had responded with anger and outrage, the conversation would have unfolded much differently and I might have lost the opportunity to inform and influence both this celebrity and her followers.

Now, I’m not sharing this to toot my own horn. I’m using this as an example of respect being a two way street. To gain respect, we must give respect, regardless of whether or not we agree with the person we are interacting with. This definitely applies to our conversations surrounding our farms and our way of life.

Consumer perception of dairy farming but also of dairy farmers will be a driving force behind our successes or our failures in the time to come. Take the recent mayhem over Earl’s ill-advised decision to abandon the Alberta beef industry as an example. This uproar showed that consumers support those they respect and value, and they obviously hold the Alberta beef industry in high regard. Would they do the same for the dairy industry? Time will tell as we begin to see more foreign dairy imports due to the recent trade deals.

In the meantime, as dairy farmers we would do well to remember that the general public has little to no knowledge of dairy farming. Perhaps they even have misgivings or misconceptions about our farms. It’s not. their. fault. The average Canadian is at least two generations removed from agriculture. What little they do know about dairy farming comes from information that they glean either via word of mouth or the internet and social media. Groups that oppose animal agriculture and the dairy industry take advantage of this gulf of ignorance, using it to promote their vision of a farm-animal-free “utopia” by using lies and half-truths to propagate fears and concerns about our industries.

Knowing this should influence how we interact with those who have genuine questions and concerns about the dairy industry. Do not interpret questions as accusations or concern as acrimony. Instead, use these apprehensions as opportunities to share your passion for your cows and your farms. Do not be afraid to allow your enthusiasm for your way of life to show clearly in these interactions. Your love for your animals and your land will drive consumer confidence and support, guaranteed. I’m not suggesting that you allow yourself to be subject to bullying or threats. If those types of comments are directed your way, move on and definitely do not stoop to that level. Hold yourself to a higher standard and you’ll advance your status and your credibility in the eyes of those who may be following the conversation from the sidelines.

Going forward, let this example that I’ve shared drive your motivation to interact with concerned consumers with kindness and respect. There’s enough hateful and horrid material coming from the animal rights’ camps. Countering that animosity and hostility with kind and polite interactions will help to gain respect and will also lend credence to your claims of proper and ethical animal care. In my opinion, that little golden rule exactly fits these situations: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Don’t you agree?

 

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Happy Cows’ First Day on Pasture

Today is my most favourite day of the entire year: the first day that our “girls” go out to pasture! We’ve had a gorgeous stretch of warm weather, and the cows have been eagerly awaiting this day, often gazing longingly at the lush pasture through the opened curtain barn walls. Now that the sogginess left by our winter rains has lessened, we’re able to give our girls access to the outdoors once again.

Every year I’m amazed at how our cows understand what’s happening as soon as we walk to the back of the barn and talk to them in a “going to pasture” tone of voice. They all crowd to the back of the barn, so aware of what is going to take place. Their intelligence is quite astounding!

And then, that moment that the gate is opened and they gallop out of the barn, displaying such infectious joy. It’s pure bliss, and it’s one of the happiest sights in the world.

(If the video does not play, follow this link to the YouTube version: Cows to pasture)

I’ll admit that I had a permanent grin plastered over my face for the rest of the day, and that I’ve watched and re-watched this video more times than I should admit. But I think it’s pretty understandable: anyone who loves cows enjoys seeing them happy and content.

#happycows #happyfarmer