The Dairy Farmers of Ontario Friday newsletter on January 14, 2022 held a glimmer of hope for Ontario’s dairy farmers who are disenchanted with the proAction program and the big sticks being wielded by DFO and other appointed officials. It was the announcement that Alex Hamilton has been named director of regulatory compliance and quality assurance.
I’m hoping that this title refers to complying with the proAction regulations and, that Alex has the same values he exhibited as our field rep in Glengarry in the 1990s.
We had started our dairy career shipping farm-separated cream in the 1980s on 20 acres and rented land. In 1989 we converted about half of our quota holdings to milk, the other half returning to the cream industry. In 1994 we sold our farm and moved two kilometres down the road to a 200-acre property. All this was done via “sweat equity,” no inheritance or hand outs from family, nor massive bank loans; just determination, hard work and perseverance. We were the last dairy farm to start this way, we were told.
We really came to know Alex when he arrived at the new barn to do the Grade A inspection before approving the licence transfer.
The dairy barn had been empty for 18 months. When we asked the French-speaking owner if he had had any problems when he was milking he would suddenly be unable to understand English. This happened time and again about everything. A warning. No problem. We asked the DFO if there had been problems only to be told this was private and confidential information. They needed written authorization to release anything to us. Back to the owner, who didn’t understand. As time was ticking down, we gave the place another look over and bought it. After all, how much could a place deteriorate in 18 months?
Alex arrived about a week before the move-in date. The milking system had been inspected by our then supplier, and the barn was white washed. There were a couple of broken windows but we would fix them over the summer.
So Alex walked around with his pen and pad of paper. We began to worry when he flipped to a second page for his notes. Then he sat down with us and went over the problems – two pages of them! Apparently the farm had been in non-compliance for years but the previous owner had “not understood” and done nothing. Contrary to today’s attitude, the DFO was reluctant to pull his licence to force the update. My, how things have changed over 28 years.
The list started with “move the lane entrance”. Then move the lane itself and rebuild 12 feet wide. A circular driveway was necessary so the milk truck (much smaller than today’s) didn’t have to turn around. Add a concrete pad in front of the milk house.
The milk house also required changes. The bulk tank had to go. The vacuum motor was leaking oil and the hot water tank was too small and not hot enough. The bell jar was stained (we could never get rid of that stain), the stainless steel sink was stained, and on and on.
Next, into the barn and the list continued. And yes, the broken windows were on the list, as well.
There were two pages of things to be replaced, repaired or changed …. and a week until our cows had to move in!! How would we/could we do it? Even if we had the extra money (which we didn’t) there was no time left to do everything.
Alex went over the items, marking what needed to be done immediately, what had to be done within 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and 2 years. Still a horrendous list but made more manageable by a thoughtful and caring field rep. We would not be where we are today if Alex had played hardball, gone by the rules, closed the barn and cancelled our pick ups.
His actions were a far cry from the ruthless inspectors who traipse in and out of our barn these days, waving manuals, citing rules and pretending to know it all.
So here is hoping, along with just about every other dairy farmer in Ontario, that Alex Hamilton is still the caring and helpful field rep he was back then. The DFO could certainly use some humanitarians in their midst and God knows that Ontario’s dairy farmers need them too.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.