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Family Farms in Peril Without Strategy

Published February 4, 2017 in the Charlottetown Guardian

I read with great concern the article written by Sylvain Charlebois entitled, “Can Trump save Canadian dairy industry,” which appeared in your newspaper on Jan. 17. To say the least, his view of the value of supply management systems is disheartening to read.

The fact that he is a professor in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University (formerly the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro, N.S.) causes even more concern.

He noted that under the proposed CETA, 17,000 tonnes of cheese could be imported into Canada, which is less than 2 per cent of the market. This doesn’t sound like much, but we need to realize that this would amount to about 170 million litres of Canadian milk production – enough to support nearly 400 farmers with 50-cow dairy herds.

He went on to say that farmers would be generously compensated to offset this loss. However, whether such assistance will ever actually be available is unknown. Even if it does become a reality, it would become an added cost to the taxpayers of this country, and it would in no way compensate for the lack of spin-off jobs created by processing milk.

Actually, such compensation could very well be considered as a violation of trade agreements. Instead, it is likely that funding would be channelled into research and technology and farmers would not receive a cheque in hand. This increase in the EU’s share of our cheese market has serious implications – loss to rural economies in terms of jobs, reduction in tax revenue to governments, lower income for dairy farmers, fewer viable dairy farms and even greater difficulty for new farmers to enter the industry,

Mr. Charlebois is of the opinion that the supply management system’s strategy is only that of protectionism. Supply management systems are built upon three pillars:  production controls, import controls and pricing which reflects the cost of production. Is this too much to ask for our farmers?

Without supply management in place, European dairy farmers are heavily subsidized by their governments, and they are trying to again get a supply management system put into place. In Canadian farm sectors without supply management, it is easy to see the results – reduction of family farms with the accompanying implications, fluctuating prices and farm bankruptcies.

Mr. Charlebois points out that American dairy farmers are anxious to ship even more milk into Canada.  However, we need to remember that the bovine growth hormone rBGH can be used on American dairy farms, but it is not allowed for use in Canadian dairy herds. Do we want to be consuming products from the US that may contain this hormone? I think not.

As Canadian consumers, we all need to support our farmers in every way possible.  They are our neighbours and friends and are capable of producing safe, high quality food at a reasonable price for all of us.

– Douglas Campbell, Southwest Lot 16, is District Director, National Farmers Union

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