By Connor Lynch
SPENCERVILLE — Talk has been tough south of the border on supply management but whether the Trump tornado will touch down on Canada’s milk system is no certain thing, say Eastern Ontario producers.
It’s not the first time the Americans have gone after supply management and some producers say it won’t be the last. Dairy Farmers of Ontario representative Nick Thurler, who farms near Winchester, told Farmers Forum that Canada may have to make some concessions on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but it likely won’t spell the end of supply management. “I think supply management is here to stay for a long time.”
U.S. President Donald Trump first spoke publicly about supply management after 75 Wisconsin dairy farmers received a letter in the mail April 1. That letter explained that they would have 30 days to find a new processor to take their milk. The processor, Grassland Dairy Products Inc., blamed the newly created Canadian Class 7 milk for the cutbacks, as it let Canadian producers compete with Americans to sell a cheaper milk product being purchased by Canadian processors.
American president Donald Trump tweeted on April 25: “Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult. We will not stand for this. Watch!”
Canadian dairy organizations have been playing defence, pointing the finger at American overproduction. The Canadian government has argued that all nations protect some agricultural sectors and that supply management for dairy, eggs and chickens works for Canada.
Osgoode-area dairy farmer Steven Velthuis said that the Canadian government has taken the right stance on supply management. “Don’t pick a fight, educate. Trump’s been educated that supply management is untouchable.” The Americans can apply pressure, but it would be up to the Canadian government to dismantle supply management and that’s not likely to happen, he said.
Ottawa-area dairy farmer Peter Ruiter told Farmers Forum he has had 13 interviews with the mainstream press on the issue and argued that supply management isn’t going anywhere.
Trump, “has a bigger stage” than most but “he has shown he changes his mind,” Ruiter said. “Cooler heads will prevail. Supply management works well for consumers, the farmer and the Canadian treasury.”
The system doesn’t cost taxpayers a penny, as every agricultural program exempts supply management, he said. But to drive that point home, he added that producers need to pick up the phone and talk to their members of parliament and remind them that there are “no subsidies. Why would you want to replace what works?”
Dairy farmer Doug Cleary, who milks 160 Holsteins at Spencerville, is less certain. He told Farmers Forum it’s impossible to predict what Trump will do and how the Canadian government will react when the chips are down. “If our government stands firm, we should be OK. People have been trying to eliminate supply management for 50 years and it’s still here.”
Canada’s supply management system came into effect in 1970. Cleary added that although the facts favour supply management, when push comes to shove that may not matter. “I am concerned that Trump is going to push things.”
Richmond-area dairy farmer John Marshall agreed. “You never know with Trump. He’s a bully. He’s used to getting his own way.”
But Marshall said that so far, the Canadian government is making all the right noises. “We have all confidence in our federal government to continue to protect (supply management). It’s almost a Canadian institution.”
Reg Presley, a former dairy farmer at Curran, who sold his herd last month, said Trump’s tough talk could just be the next iteration of attacks on supply management, which has been attacked regularly since it was created. But Trump’s a deal maker. “This isn’t Obama. This is Mr. Trump. He wrote the book, The Art of the Deal. Only time will tell.”