Good planting conditions dampened by politics
ASIDE FROM TIRADES BY U.S. President Donald Trump against our dairy farmers, things are looking good as we head into spring planting, and even the harvesting of early crops.
Asparagus producers are expected to start their harvest sometime between May 1-5. Asparagus is Ontario’s first field crop.
And in some parts of the province, corn is being planted right now. Thanks to a few days of aboveaverage temperatures, average precipitation and windy conditions, most soil types have dried up nicely.
Those conditions bode well for the 2.1-2.2 million acres of corn that farmers will be planting this spring. They’ll be followed a little later by soybeans, which are likely to cover about 2.7 million acres of Ontario cropland this year. Those comprise our major field crops, along with winter wheat, which was seeded last fall on about 800,000 acres of Ontario farmland.
Some of the crops that grow here go towards feeding livestock, including dairy cows. Dairy (along
with chicken and eggs) is what’s known as a supply managed industry. That means the supply is regulated by government decree, and cheap imports are mostly restricted from entering the country.
This all started after the last World War when farmers were getting their feet back on the ground, gearing up to feed what was then a growing population. It was thought farmers needed protection at the border to help them get a reasonable price for their commodities.
Over the years, supply management has become part of our culture.
Some say keeping imports out makes the price of these commodities unreasonably high. Others say it helps our farmers offer superior products.
President Trump sides with the former argument. Not only that, he thinks the woes of U.S. dairy producers, who do not have supply management, are tied to Canada. “Because in Canada, some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others,” he said, in his usual disjointed fashion. I think he meant because of Canada, but it doesn’t matter, he’s saying what he needs to say to Midwest America that elected him. He needs them to believe he can break through the barriers that have long existed, barriers that might help them be more prosperous.
The reality is that Canada cannot help American dairy farmers get over the hump they and dairy farmers from other countries – ones who don’t have a supply managed sector – are facing.
They’ve overproduced. So, on the world market, dairy prices have fallen. They’re looking for markets to sell into, and Canada is a natural … if only foreign farmers could get access for a wide range of dairy-related commodities (they have some access already, but not nearly the range they want).
If Trump is successful, we have a problem. If changes are made, it will impact many farmers. If the prices dairy, chicken and egg farmers receive tumble, those who grow feed for them, for example, will find new challenges too.
But there’s a bigger issue here. Supply management in Canada simply cannot be managed by another country’s government.
Former U.S. administrations have threatened Canada over supply management. Trump, however, is unpredictable, vindictive and in a difficult spot. He’s said he’s going to do something to help farmers. And as far as agriculture goes, this could be his launch pad.
The Canadian government and the dairy sector are fighting back with facts, trying to explain that Canada is not to blame for the problems with U.S. or global dairy prices. They’ll need resilience to keep it up, especially if it all gets mixed together in NAFTA renegotiations.
Meanwhile, planting will continue, as it does every year. But what the landscape will look like come harvest time is anyone’s guess.