By Angela Dorie
A common theme around our kitchen table has been our dissatisfaction with our milk marketing boards, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC).
We have long questioned their ability (or inability) to manage milk supply (and it is getting worse), their lack of understanding of real-life dairy farms, imports, their “pussyfooting” around all levels of government and the ever-increasing numbers leaving the industry — 20 more in September in Ontario.
The DFO/DFC entry into consumer pacification, aka quality control, with the Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) program has resulted in even more dissatisfaction with the status quo.
The latest program, proAction, which bears down on animal management, traceability, biosecurity and the environment, increases our costs and time attempting to conform to even more inane demands. Do consumers really care?
So, we grumble to each other and wonder if other farmers feel the same. No one ever really says anything. They are all too busy staying afloat and farming.
On Aug. 24, the DFO called an evening producer meeting in St. Isidore. We don’t usually attend meetings but after the surprise reduction in May milk cheques, we felt someone should go. The men had milking, so our daughter was enlisted to chauffeur me, still not driving after knee surgery, the almost one-hour trip after her work.
We watched and listened, enthralled as three DFO members worked to pacify a room of discontented farmers, hard-working dairymen with the same questions we had.
One farmer after another, some with heavy French, Dutch or Swiss accents, shouted their displeasure from their seats. These dairy people, all whom had worked hard all day, either milked early or left it to others to be here, had no problem raising their voices.
They questioned quota mismanagement. The head table admitted they hadn’t done a good job. A 1.5 % decrease several years ago should have been a 2 % increase. It has never been corrected.
Talk of blockading plants, which use tariff-avoiding U.S. diafiltered milk, was received with enthusiasm by farmers but not DFO reps. Farmers suggested blockading the trucks crossing at the border. No comment from DFO. Did they hear?
The DFO observation that importing U.S. butter and cream is good because it reflects increasing Canadian dairy consumption was met with utter disgust. But it looks good on paper, we were told. That was met with disbelief.
The DFO seemed stumped on how to fill the increase in need for butter and cream. A DFO rep posed the justification that, if the DFO gave farmers a 5 % increase in production then reduced it by 1 % next year, producers would not be happy. “Try us!” some of us shouted back.
We were told how we should feel about current milk prices. We should be pleased because world prices are worse. More disbelief from the crowd.
Over and again the problem of the system unable to handle more by-product (skim/SNF) was blamed on outdated processor plants, explaining why diafiltered milk (DFM) is so attractive. We learned the difference in prices, DFM compared to skim for animal feed. Why has it been allowed to get that bad? The Canadian Food Inspection Agency was given most of the blame for the U.S. imports. The new Class 6 milk which results in lowered milk prices to farmers along with new processor agreements is the DFO/DFC solution.
But why are the DFO/DFC working toward funding for the processors, several farmers asked. Because “You benefit,” they told us. Asked what the marketing boards are doing to help farmers, they told us something “might be coming.”
It was an eye opener. I learned a lot, but more importantly, I discovered that my family and I are not the only disgruntled dairy farmers. Not one stood up to defend the DFO or DFC. All producers are in the same boat. More expenses, lower income. Extra quota in the past few months has helped to increase the gross but it costs to produce more milk: More electricity, more time and labour, more feed; supplements and minerals, more vet bills, more breeding and on and on . . . and here comes the proAction program. We are not that stupid. Our net hasn’t increased one iota.
We emptied the hall well-past 11 p.m. All I can say is, next time make an effort to attend, if only to discover that you are not alone in your anger and disappointment. It was invigorating and rejuvenating. We are not alone.