In the summer of 1965, I was a 16-year-old farm lad working in building construction during the day and helping with farm chores before and after work. All of Eastern Ontario was suffering from three very dry summers and many farmers had expensive hay shipped in from southern Ontario. There was plenty of hay up in the New Liskeard area of northern Ontario, but it was too wet there to make and save hay.
It was in August of 1965 that the Ontario Milk Marketing Board was created. Younger folks probably only know it as Dairy Farmers of Ontario. I remember it well. Bill Stewart and Everett Biggs were the two most influential men involved in creating the board. Bill Stewart was the Ontario Minister of Agriculture from 1961 to 1975. Everett Biggs was the Ontario Deputy Minister of Agriculture. Biggs grew up on a dairy farm near Pembroke. He was a dairy commissioner back in the 1950s.
It’s interesting to note that in 1968, I worked on the construction of the addition to the Bigg’s dairy barn near Pembroke at that time owned by Everett’s brother Reggie. Reggie and Englishman John Platt had a very impressive dairy operation. Platt was the cow man.
Many farmers milking a small herd quit in 1965-66 as they didn’t like the idea of a marketing board and quota. My father wasn’t happy either when the board was established. The milk quota farmers were issued was based on the previous 12 months of shipping milk. But 1963 and 1964 were very dry summers and pastures dried up early and hay was scarce. Our corn for silage was a disaster and a late August frost killed the plants. I remember my father saying we had a frost every month of the year except July. The quota we were issued meant my father had to sell cows and heifers at depressed prices. Prices were very low due to the drought. Those were lean years. But being farmers, we stuck it out, later buying quota and continued milking cows.
Prior to 1965, there was a lot of chaos for milk shippers. I remember seeing milk and cream trucks from different milk plants criss-crosssing the township roads picking up small amounts of milk or cream. One big problem farmers had was the low butterfat test the plants would give the farmers. I recall some farmers buying a few Jersey cows just to get the butterfat up but it made no difference in the butterfat test. One frustrated farmer complained to the owner of the local plant and was told, “Why didn’t you tell me right away?” There were a lot of shenanigans by the plants, such as cheating farmers on the butterfat test. Most dairy farmers will agree that the creation and existence of the Ontario Milk Marketing Board has been the salvation of all milk producers in Ontario.
In 1970, the National Milk Marketing Plan came into effect to control supply, with the federal government and the governments of Ontario and Quebec, the two largest provinces, signing on. By 1974 every province except Newfoundland had signed on. Following dairy, a national supply management system was implemented for eggs in 1972, turkey in 1974, chicken in 1978 and chicken hatching eggs in 1986.
Supply management is the mechanism by which milk, poultry, turkey and egg farmers in Canada adjust their production (done by the board) in order to meet consumer needs. Products are mainly intended for the domestic market and not as exports.
Supply management has been given a bad rap by some academics and politicians. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it well in a recent interview after President Donald Trump’s attack on supply management: “Every country protects its agricultural industries. We have a supply management system that works well here in Canada. The Americans and other countries choose to subsidize to the tune of millions of dollars, if not billions, their agriculture industries, including their dairy.”
Right on! It’s not a perfect system but what is?
France, Germany, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Iceland have all deregulated and right now they are all giving money to their farmers to preserve their national dairy industry, said Isabelle Bouchard, a spokesperson for the Dairy Farmers of Canada.
Happy Canada Day! Hurrah for Canada’s supply managed system.
Maynard van der Galien is a cash crop farmer and agricultural writer. His farm grows oats, wheat, corn and soybeans at Renfrew, Ont.