Don’t get milked by dairy de­ba­cle

GUEST COL­UMN If Trump gets his way, Cana­dian dairy farms will be in trou­ble

Lethbridge Herald - - READER’S FORUM - Mike Van­den Dool

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.

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