Don’t get milked by dairy debacle
GUEST COLUMN If Trump gets his way, Canadian dairy farms will be in trouble
Ifarm with my family near Lethbridge and the milk from my farm goes to one of the Lethbridge milk processing plants, which ends up on grocery stores across the city.
My industry has become the target in the NAFTA renegotiations as Americans want access to our market because they have a serious milk oversupply problem. However, the state of Wisconsin produces more milk than all of Canada, so it wouldn’t take long before they would just fill up Canada, too, and be back to their original problem. To me, it’s like trying to save a drowning person by making the pool bigger; it just doesn’t make sense. Much of that milk is then wasted and I sympathize with the hard times my American counterparts are experiencing.
As many American dairymen would admit, they are seeking a solution like supply management. Our farms have quota and only produce what Canadians need. It leads to a predictable market, less wasted food, and small, sustainable family farms.
However, if President Trump gets his way and is able to ship his milk into Canada, the story behind our four litres will tell a very different tale.
The milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream that the people of Lethbridge currently enjoy every day must pass Canadian standards, and quite frankly, American milk doesn’t compare to our Canadian milk quality. They allow added hormones in their milk (which is illegal in Canada) and allow nearly double the count of somatic cells (it’s the total number of white blood cells per millilitre in milk), which are two main indicators of milk quality. Not to mention you’ll never be able to match the freshness that farms like mine can provide only being about an hour away.
But quality doesn’t stop at the milk. Canada has a mandatory program which all farms across Canada must comply with to produce milk. It is called proAction. proAction sets the standards on animal care and environment. For example, in the U.S., that similar program is voluntary and doesn’t have the same high standards that we do.
Canadian milk also means less for your wallet. In the U.S., you pay more for your milk. One litre of milk in Canada is $1.51 and in the U.S. it’s $1.63. Don’t be deceived by crossborder sales: although they might be rock bottom near Montana, that’s not consistent across all states.
Another good number to know is $0. That’s how much farms like mine receive in subsidies from the government. Compare that to the $22 billion U.S. dairy farmers receive. Americans pay twice for their milk: once at the till, then again through their taxes. Even vegans pay for milk in the U.S.! In Canada, our taxes currently go towards roads so we get home safely, hospitals that care for our ill, and good schools that inspire our future. They shouldn’t go towards bailing dairy farmers out.
The iconic small Canadian family dairy farm like mine would also be bowled over by mega American farms. If we could survive this, those farms would potentially need to grow into the 5,000-cow farms that commonly exist across the border. Currently, the average Canadian dairy farm has 85 cows; in the U.S., the average farm has about triple that.
I’m an entrepreneur for my family business like so many other Albertans. We have already been hit with nearly 15 per cent foreign market access, and NAFTA presents the opportunity for more. We need to put our foot down and stop being bullied by Mr. Trump and stand up for local food, local jobs and local businesses.
Mike Vanden Dool is a dairy farmer near Lethbridge where he farms with his family.