By Connor Lynch
GLENGARRY — Ontario’s farmer–member milk marketing board, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, is eating crow but standing by its new third-party certification program after Glengarry County’s milk-producer committee resigned in protest of the program.
The committee of seven dairy farmers objected to the DFO’s decision late last year to switch to third-party verification for proAction, without first consulting any producer committees.
ProAction was introduced to appease consumer concerns about milk producers policing themselves. The new program means that animal health and milk quality program compliance will be conducted by an outside agency. According to a Dec. 17 release sent to producers, changeover to the third–party would take at least six months and possibly as long as a year.
The Glengarry committee wasn’t having it, decrying the decision, and the proAction program in general, in an early January letter. “We have failed as a committee to represent the producers that have elected us on a number of areas that will greatly effect how dairy farmers will operate . . . and how our industry will survive with the coming trade changes,” the letter stated.
“This decision to implement third-party validations will add a minimum of $500,000 a year to a program that has cost producers across this province millions and millions of dollars already,” the letter stated. No names were attached as signatories. The committee’s letter suggested proAction was a “make-work project” and “has not even attempted to be promoted to consumers thus far.”
The letter concluded: “We as producers have all spent time and money on proAction and have absolutely zero to show for it.”
DFO board member Bart Rijke, who farms in Russell County, told Farmers Forum that, in hindsight, making the decision without consultation might not have been the right decision. “Maybe we made a mistake there.”
The Glengarry producers were the only committee among 48 across the province to resign over proAction but plenty were unhappy about not being consulted, said Rijke. The “majority” of Ontario’s milk producer committees told the DFO that they would’ve wanted consultation before the decision was made, he said.
Rijke acknowledged that the letter made “some valid points” but he defended proAction. “It is a proactive program. We don’t want to sit back and wait until consumers tell us what to do.” He added that proAction is a national program by Dairy Farmers of Canada, not a DFO initiative.
The issue of marketing proAction to consumers has come up before: Former general manager Graham Lloyd said during producer meetings in 2018 that proAction could’ve been better marketed. Rijke agreed. “We have to leverage it a little more in our marketing. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet. (We) want to make sure it’s watertight before we do.”
Fellow board member and South Mountain dairy farmer Nick Thurler said that part of the rationale for the move to third-party verification was because every other province already has third-party verification. He added that before he was on the board and proAction was first starting to take shape, he wasn’t a fan either. “The more I got involved with it, the more I saw it needed to be done,” Thurler said. “Every other jurisdiction in the world has something. There’s places in Europe where the government came up with a program and said that’s what you’ve got to do, no questions asked.” At least this way, producers have a say, he said.
Thurler reached out to Glengarry committee chair Melanie Trottier shortly after DFO received the letter. DFO executive and board chair Murray Sherk also reached out, offering to meet with the committee in advance of the annual general meeting (AGM) on Jan. 14-16. The DFO also planned to hold a closed session with Ontario’s 48 milk committees at its annual general meeting in Toronto to discuss proAction.
Committee board members could not be reached for comment.
Entire Glengarry milk producer committee resigns over a third-party verification program they don’t like
By Connor Lynch