By Tom Collins
ELMIRA — Two Ontario dairy farmers, near Guelph, are making the slow trek across Canada to show consumers what supply management means to farmers.
Henk and Bettina Schuurmans of Milky Wave Farms left their Elmira farm on June 23, driving 40 km/hr in their John Deere 6430 tractor on their way to British Columbia. They left the farm and 200 milking cows in the hands of their three sons.
“We came up with idea early in spring to take a bicycle,” Henk Schuurmans, 55, told Farmers Forum. But then they figured that was too punishing for their aging bodies. ”We thought the car was too boring and motorcycles are just not our thing. We’re farmers. Why not take a tractor?”
Schuurmans estimates it will take about 30 to 40 days to make the 4,000-km trip to British Columbia. They are using social media to announce their whereabouts and hope to meet and stay with dairy farmers along the route. They also brought along a tent and sleeping bags, just in case.
The couple is making unscheduled stops along the way. They drove past a soccer tournament in Sault Ste. Marie and decided to stop in. Many of the 2,000 kids and parents came over to talk to the farmers. A large sign on the front end of the tractor reads: “Ask this dairy family about Canadian milk.”
There’s a life-sized plastic Holstein standing on a platform behind the tractor seat.
Schuurmans believes if Canada deals away supply management, smaller dairy farms won’t survive. Only large factory farms will be left, he says.
“It will destroy the rural communities,” he said. “It’s not just farms, it’s tractor dealers and insurance companies, accountants, suppliers. There’s a lot of spinoff from dairy.”
The future of supply management has come up frequently over the past year as trade negotiations between the U.S. and Canada intensifies.
Schuurmans said the U.S. produces too much milk, causing the price of milk at times to fall below the cost of production, forcing some dairy farmers out of business.
Although the federal government has said it supports supply management, Schuurmans is still concerned. “We just hope it’s not going to be a bargaining tool in negotiating all these trade talks,” said Schuurmans.
When the Schuurmans arrive in B.C., they are putting the tractor on a tractor trailer and heading back to Elmira. After their son, Jim, marries in September, Henk and Bettina plan to hop back on the tractor and driving to the East Coast.
One of the most common questions they’ve been getting is why take a tractor with no cab.
“We both think it’s so much more fun with an open station,” said Schuurmans. “You can smell it, you can see it, you can experience it. The cab is too easy. You have to suffer a little bit.”
You can follow the Schuurmans’ trip on Twitter @CdnMilkTour.