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.

Be Like Me and Don’t Cry Wolfe!

I don’t know about you, but I love this whole ‪#‎BeLikeMe‬ craze that’s making the rounds on Facebook these days. For the most part, these memes are pretty funny and surprisingly accurate! I was considering trying it out to see what kind of meme my profile would generate, when I came across another post of Facebook that made me forget all of those funny posts.

I’m sure you’ve seen David Avocado Wolfe memes, photos and posts spreading like wildfire across the internet. And it’s perfectly understandable! He posts inspirational quotes, either of his own creation or attributed to famous people, pasted on gorgeous backgrounds.

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Pretty harmless, right?!

These posts strike a chord with the people who read them, prompting them to “like” and/or share this content. In this way, Mr. Wolfe has amassed more than 4 MILLION followers! Can you imagine how many people see his posts every day? The number is mind-boggling. So what’s the issue? Well, as it turns out, Mr. Wolfe has an agenda, and a pretty nasty one at that. Now that he has generated so many followers, he has begun to show his true biases. And one of these is against milk. (There are many more, and if you’d like to find out about these, search ‪#‎dontcrywolfe‬).

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Hmmm…. Showing our bias now, aren’t we, Mr. Wolfe?

There’s absolutely no need to fear dairy products, and there’s absolutely no truth to his statements. Milk is safe and wholesome. Period.

  1. There is no blood or pus in milk. Canadian farmers must comply with very strict standards regarding the components and purity of milk*.   Milk that does not meet these standards is not shipped to the processor and the farmer must correct his procedures in order to resume shipping milk. This myth of pus in milk periodically makes the rounds on the internet, and seems to be borne of the idea that white blood cells can be equated with pus. This is not true. There actually is no such thing as “pus cell”!  Pus is made up of dead white blood cells, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Somatic cells are living white blood cells located in the udder of cows. Like all white blood cells, they fight infection. An elevated somatic cell count indicates that the cow is fighting some sort of infection. Milk is tested both on farm and at the processing plant; one of the tests run is called a “somatic cell count” test. This test shows the level of somatic cells in a sample of milk. A cow with a somatic cell count of 200 000 cells per milliliter is considered to be in optimum health, she is not fighting any sort of infection. The maximum allowable limit for somatic cells in milk is 400 000. This line is drawn to ensure that sick cows are treated and that their milk does not enter the food chain. See here for a very in-depth discussion on the whole “pus in milk” myth.
  2. In Canada, it is illegal to use growth hormones to stimulate milk production. Yes, milk does contain naturally occurring hormones. But did you know that there are many other foods that contain hormones? In fact, one 8-oz serving of cabbage = 5,411 nanograms of estrogen while a glass of milk contains only 3ng of estrogen. (1 ng = one billionth of a gram)
  3. Canadian farms comply with very strict standards that allow NO antibiotics in milk. If a cow becomes ill and needs to be treated with antibiotics, the milk she produces does not enter the bulk tank, but is safely discarded for the required “withdrawal period”, which is the time that it takes after treatment for the drug to be excreted from her body. The milk is tested for antibiotic residues both at the farm and at the processing plant. If residues are found, the entire truck load of milk is discarded of safely, and the farmer responsible pays a very hefty fine.
  4. Osteoporosis Canada, Canada’s national osteoporosis research and education organization, recommends “3 servings of milk and alternatives (2 servings for adults under age 50) – yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified beverages, puddings, custards, etc. This essentially means that, if you are over 50, you need the equivalent of one good serving of dairy at each meal” to help prevent osteoporosis. I’d think that an organization like this would be more informed about reducing the risks of osteoporosis than an internet quack, no?
  5. Canada’s dairy farmers are environmentally responsible. Many are certified under the Environmental Farm Plan, which is a tool to help farmers mitigate any unwanted environmental stresses that farming may cause. Additionally, Dairy Farmers of Canada’s ProAction Initiative contains a section related exclusively to environmental sustainability. Adherence to this section will soon be mandatory across Canada. But more importantly, dairy farmers know that caring for the land is the responsible thing to do. After all, our land produces the crops that our cows eat. We are good stewards of our land — it would be counter-intuitive to waste or destroy our own resources.                                                                                                                              IMG_5704 IMG_5206
  6. Animal abuse is never, ever okay. And as dairy farmers, we do our utmost to ensure that the animals under our care are happy, comfortable, and healthy. Dairy Farmers of Canada and all provincial dairy farmer organizations work together to continually advocate for enforcements against abuse and Canadian dairy farmers are very transparent about how they care for their animals, which can be seen by our efforts to show the public our farms and informing them in other ways about common dairy practices.  All Canadian farmers are required to adhere to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle and to treat their animals with respect and compassion.  The Animal Care Code of Conduct – clearly emphasizes the importance of good animal care and reporting any incidence of animal abuse immediately.  Most importantly, animal abuse is definitely not the norm. There is no motive or reason for a farmer to abuse his/her cows: even if a farmer cared nothing for the cows under their care, every farmer knows that happy, comfortable, healthy, well cared for cows produce the best quality milk, and no farmer wants to jeopardize their income or bottom line. Most of all, farmers treat their cows well because it simply is the right thing to do.  See these videos for proof that cows are happy on dairy farms!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cq67DZItFk

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORYprELu7v8

  7. Veal is produced from male (bull) calves. These calves are raised on a specialized diet until 4-6 months of age or 450-500 pounds, and then they are slaughtered. Veal farmers are no different than other farmers – they treat the animals under their care with respect and compassion. It seems that the issue with veal is emotional: people picture baby calves being slaughtered. But that’s not at all true! A six month old bull calf resembles a full grown cow more than a newborn calf! Only a fraction of bull calves are raised as veal; the majority are raised as beef on a diet of forages and grains until approximately 18 months of age. The dairy industry helps to provide both meat and milk for Canadians.
  8. Yes, milk is for calves. And calves are fed their mother’s milk. But a dairy cow can produce much more milk than her calf can drink. I’ve often heard the argument that milk is designed to grow a calf to several hundred pounds weight in a short amount of time. This is true. But…a calf drinks up to 12 liters of milk per day! Humans drink only a tiny fraction of this. Milk is full of essential and beneficial nutrients and has been a source of nutrition for humans for centuries. Milk really does do a body good!

 

So, back to the BeLikeMe craze. It struck me that what I would like most would be for you to join me in spreading the word about David Avocado Wolfe and his anti-agriculture agenda. Don’t “like” his posts. Don’t share his posts. And if you “like” his page, please do me a favour and hop on over and “unlike” it. If you notice your friends sharing his posts, perhaps you would be so kind as to inform them of his true agenda. Maybe we can limit the spread of these absurdities, even if it’s in just a small way.

david wolfe

* Farmers all around the world are held to quality standards — as a Canadian dairy farmer, I speak to the Canadian standards of quality and purity. Many other country’s standards are very similar.

Why Organic?

This week, September 20-28, is Canadian Organic Week, a time to celebrate organic food, farming and products across the country. The goal of Organic Week is to involve Canadians in organic agriculture and help them learn about the benefits of organic farming and its positive impact on the environment.

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Since announcing our plans to transition to organic farming, we’ve heard many interesting and humorous assumptions about this type of farming. When talking about our plans, it wasn’t uncommon to hear these types of responses: “Are you going to be growing a beard and sporting dread locks to fit into the hippie farming community?” or, “The only difference between conventional and organic farming is that organic farmers spray RoundUp at night.” or, “Organic? Are you sure? Your fields will soon be overrun with weeds and crop disease!” or, “Organic farmers aren’t allowed to use antibiotics, so instead of treating sick cattle, they leave them to suffer and die.”

Although these responses were sometimes humorous, we noticed that it really emphasized the lack of knowledge about the organic way of farming. We’ve learned a lot in the two years we’ve been farming organically, and we’d like to share some of the knowledge we’ve gained in that period of time with you. I think Organic Week presents an excellent opportunity to describe organic dairy farming and why we decided to make the transition from conventional dairying to organic milk production.

heifer and calves

Approximately two and half years ago, during a conversation with an organic dairy farmer friend, we were told about the demand for organic milk products, the opportunities for growth in the organic sector and the premium paid to organic dairy farmers. This conversation prompted us to seriously think about transitioning to this type of farming. After all, we already employed numerous organic practices: our cows were on pasture during the summer months, our cows were not fed large quantities of grain, and our antibiotic and fertility drug use was quite low. We researched the organic system and found that although the transition would be labour intensive and time consuming, it was a challenge we couldn’t resist accepting. This decision was originally made for mostly economic reasons but has transformed into a firm belief in the organic system’s merits.

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Our dairy herd enjoying a sunny early fall day on pasture.

So what does “organic” actually mean and how does it apply to dairy farming? Officially, the word “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Consumers can be assured that organic food is produced using environmentally and animal-friendly farming methods. Organic certification tells the consumer that the product they purchase has been inspected and verified to have been produced and processed according to the Canadian Organic Standard. This Standard is every organic farmer’s bible. It details the required production methods for any type of crop or livestock, and includes a list of Permitted Substances which are permitted for use in organic farming (eg manure, compost, vitamins and minerals, etc.). In organic dairying, both the crops grown and the livestock that are raised and milked must be certified to have been grown and managed according to the Standard.

The main differences between organic and conventional dairying can be divided into two categories: crops and cattle.

Crops:

  • No chemical fertilizer use permitted. We use a combination of cow manure and composted chicken manure to fertilize our crops.
  • No synthetic pesticide use permitted. Instead of using herbicides to control weeds, we utilize mechanical cultivation techniques and crop rotation to minimize weed spread and growth. Our corn crop is seeded later than usual (early June) to minimize wire worm problems. Wire worms move deeper into the soil as the soil warms, so seeding in June helps to prevent loss of corn plants to this pest, as well as ensuring that the corn grows quickly and doesn’t become choked out due to weed growth.
  • Crop rotation and cover crop seeding/mulching/integrating into the soil are integral parts of an organic farm plan
This year's organic corn crop

This year’s organic corn crop

Cattle:

  • must be fed 100% certified organic feed (GMO free)
  • must have access to pasture during the growing season
  • must gain 20% of their forage intake (dry matter basis) from grazing during the growing season
  • must have access to a walkout area during the winter months and if pasture is inaccessible due to inclement weather during growing season
  • can only be treated with health care aids listed in the Permitted Substances List
  • If these health care aids fail and other drugs must be used, milk withdrawal is 1 month or twice as long as the labeled withdrawal period, whichever is longer.
  • A cow can only be treated with antibiotics twice in one year before losing organic status
  • Organic farms in BC must also adhere to the Code of Care for the Handling of Dairy Cattle (which is mandatory for all dairy farms in BC starting next month.) The Organic Standard’s guidelines and rules with regards to the care and handling of dairy cattle are at least equal to, and, in some cases, more strict than the Code.

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Organic Certification Process.A farmer wishing to transition to organic must first become certified by an accredited certifying body. The certifying body collects all of the farm’s information:

  • a detailed list of land history and which inputs have been used in the past;
  • soil and water tests;
  • a farm plan describing all crops and livestock grown on farm, crop rotation plans, and pest management plans;
  • field maps;
  • water tests;
  • soil tests;
  • crop sample tests;
  • livestock density charts;
  • pasture log
  • herd treatment records
  • etc.

The initial application process is complicated and time consuming; subsequent yearly applications are much more streamlined and less labour intensive. Next, the certifying body arranges for the farm to be inspected by an independent verification officer. The verification officer visits the farm, inspects all fields and crops, livestock, and farm buildings and then meticulously combs over and audits the farms production records, input records, sales receipts, invoices, etc. Once the verification officer has finished the inspection, s/he prepares a report for the certifying body, identifying any problems or areas where the farm is non-compliant to the Standard, or any areas where the farm has an Opportunity for Improvement (OFI), and, finally, recommends whether the farm is eligible for certification. This process is repeated at least once a year; each farm is inspected once yearly with the possibility of extra unannounced inspections.

Our organic reference binder and organic records binder. I think they'll both be getting fatter as the years pass!

Our organic reference binder and organic records binder. I think they’ll both be getting fatter as the years pass!

Land to be included in the organic farm plan must be managed according to the standard for three years before being certified organic. Our land is currently in its third year of organic management, which means it has T3 status. The last prohibited substance (chemical fertilizer) was applied to our land in August 2012. Our land will be certified organic next August.

Cows beings transitioned to organic must be managed organically for a minimum of one year before the milk they produce is considered organic. Many farms considering changing to organic milk production choose to sell their herd and start over with certified organic cows, eliminating the need for a transitional period. We chose another route, preferring not to lose our years of crossbreeding to Brown Swiss and the superior (in our opinion!) cows and heifers this crossbreeding produced. Therefore, starting November 1, we will begin transitioning our herd to organic. During the herd transition year, farm raised crops can be fed to the cows. The first nine months of the transition, they must be fed a minimum of 80% organic/farm raised feed, with 20% conventional feed permitted. The final three months, all feed must be organic/farm raised. As soon as the herd is fully certified, all crops fed must be organic (no T3 feed permitted). After this lengthy land and herd transition, we’ll certainly be pleased to see the organic milk truck loading our first tank of organic milk in November 2015!

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In conclusion:

In our opinion, the organic industry provides valuable choices to consumers. We feel a sense of pride and accomplishment resulting from our efforts to farm sustainably, utilizing environmentally friendly, traditional farming practices, while providing consumers with the opportunity to choose foods that best align with their personal choices and ideals. Although the organic way of farming is a good fit for our family and farm, this is not true for all farms, neither should it be. I admire and respect farmers who choose to farm as we formerly did; they also are good stewards of the land, provide excellent care for their animals, and are great examples of the types of people needed to feed the world. But I believe that the organic industry is vital to agriculture as well, so that all consumers can find foods that they feel best benefits their needs and wants, either conventionally grown or certified organic. And as a farmer, I believe that is our most important, most beneficial job: supplying the world’s population with foods to fit their dietary choices. Up until this point, we are pleased with our decision, and, as we travel further on this organic journey, we’re excited to see what the future has in store for our cows and our family!