Op Ed: Proudly Canadian: Viable, Modern Dairy Sector

by Randall Affleck, NFU Board Member

I am proud of Canada’s national agriculture policy for dairy; supply management. Like many rural initiatives of the past, it has deep cooperative roots that have nurtured the development of a viable, modern dairy sector in every region of Canada.

It provides the degree of discipline and organization necessary for dairy farmers in the organized world of trade and commerce. Farmers are often exploited in the presence of chaotic action and disorganization. Using a consensus-based structure, dairy farmers work in a clear tripartite relationship with processors and society (government) to effectively address the evolving issues in the Canadian dairy sector.

This cooperation and discipline of actions enable farmers to pool resources and amplify the outcomes of our work. For example, we can maximize efficiencies in transportation and marketing expenses, and share the revenue risks equally between the regions. Dairy farmers are able to effectively partner with both academic institutions for research and development, and dairy processors for new product development exploration.

Canada is a northern climate and while our dairy production costs are greater than many other areas in the world, the productivity of our cows remains very high. What is a fair mechanism for determining the price of milk?

Supply management is very transparent. Milk prices are ultimately set by society, through their government agency, the Canadian Dairy Commission, using a cost-of-production formula with actual on-farm expenses. The highest cost producers are removed from the sample data to ensure that only the most cost efficient milk is measured.

The dairy cow is the real heroine in this story, providing both economic and ecological benefits for Canadians. Historically, most dairy farms developed around areas of good, but marginal land in Canada. Our cows are able to convert a grass resource into a nutritious valuable food product and this new wealth is shared and generates meaningful economical spinoff in all regions of our country. Animals are vital to an ecosystem. Rumen biota is recycled back to the land, enhancing the soil’s health and productivity in a rotation with other crops.

At its heart, supply management is a localized food production model ensuring sufficient, healthy food for everyone and providing fair prices for farmers. That is something to be proud of Canada.