By Connor Lynch
METCALFE — The long road to the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement gave market access to European cheesemakers in the deal that more than doubled their tariff-free access. But that rankled dairy farmers. To soothe the pain, the federal government sweetened the deal with grants for operational upgrades. The money rolled out last month, after long delays caused by huge interest in the program.
As of Sept. 7, the federal government has given out $118.4 million to more than 1,800 dairy farmers, said Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada spokesperson Patrick Girard. Ontario, home to one-third of dairy farms, gobbled up nearly one-third of the money. About 500 farms received $39 million.
But it’s been a long time coming. Applications opened a year ago, offering as much as $250,000 to individual dairy farms for upgrades. It was heavily over-applied, said spokesperson Cynthia Holmes, explaining that sorting through all the applications took some time.
Caledon-area dairy farmer Philip Armstrong wasn’t impressed. “That was the stupidest program.” Armstrong was on vacation for five days when applications first opened up. By the time he was home, they were full. “Very few people got any compensation, even though everyone was affected by it.” He’d just cut a cheque for $400,000 to upgrade his dairy equipment to boot. “But they ran out of money.”
Eastern Ontario dairy farmer John Velthuis ended up getting cash, but had a winding and frustrating path to it. He had applied for the program last year after just building a new barn, so the money couldn’t have come at a better time. One of the first in, his application was time-stamped eight minutes after the office opened. Soon after, he was informed that his application had come in too late, and all the money had been assigned. Months later, he received another letter asking him some questions about his application.
Almost a year after he first applied, the money came, in early August. Now, it’s been spent, Velthuis said, put towards the manure system in his barn. The funds are most commonly spent on new manure systems, robotic milking systems and parlour milking systems.
Phase 2 of the program (for farmers who did not receive money in Phase 1), includes the remaining $98 million in grants and will be launched later this year, Girard said.