Local dairy farmers fight for supply management
By Cindy Chant
O’Leary corner was abuzz recently as three passionate dairy farmers took a stand for what they believe in. Supply management was the hot topic, as the farmers targeted Federal Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay who was making her rounds across the island March 4.
“We came out to make our position known. We are a minority, there are not many of us left,” said retired dairy farmer Ronnie MacWilliams, who admits he had been farming all of his 61 years.
A forty-five minute heated discussion took place in the middle of the popular coffee shop as the farmers questioned Ms Hall Findlay’s position on supply management.
“How much fun do you think it is to walk into a Tim Hortons and have three very wealthy farmers yell at you?” said Ms Hall Findlay, who didn’t step down from her position on the supply management issue.
According to O’Leary dairy farmer Harold MacNevin, and a chairman for the Dairy Farmers of PEI, if supply management is going to be dismantled local dairy farmers can’t compete with multi-national producers who are setting up plants all over the world.
“Multi-nationals go where there is the cheapest labour, environmental regulations and inputs...we are going to be at a real disadvantage,” said Mr MacNevin.
The O’Leary farmer explained how supply management is broken down in three pillars. The first pillar - producers match the supply of milk to the demand. Second pillar - gives the right to the dairy farmers to get the cost of production back. Auditors go around and collect data from farms across the country on what it costs to produce milk.
“There are about fifty per cent of producers in Canada who are getting their costs of production back right now,” said Mr MacNevin, who went on to explain how the third pillar of the management program provides import controls. “If you have no control of what is coming across the boarder, how do you match the supply to the demand because imports are coming across the border all the time.”
Ms Hall Findlay stood her ground and opinion that this will not be the end of dairy farmers if supply management is dismantled.
“I am pretty sure all of those three dairy farmers are millionaires...Given the average dairy farmer makes significantly more that the average family,” said Ms Hall Findlay. “The dairy farmer has a great income, average two million dollars in assets and has a high stable income.”
The Liberal leadership candidate pointed out that the rate of consolidation in supply managed farms is slightly higher than most of the other agricultural sectors.
“So the idea that supply management protects the family farms is a complete fallacy.”
Shortly after the debate, Ms Hall Findlay shared statistics collected by the Agriculture Census Division in 2011. Within the four electoral ridings across the province revealed Charlottetown had two dairy farms and 13 non-supply managed farms. Malapeque has 18 dairy farms and 439 non-supply managed farms. Egmont has 50 dairy farms with 184 non-supply managed farms. Finally Cardigan has 51 dairy farms with 283 non-managed farms.
“The reason these numbers are so important is that Canada is looking to sign the Transpacific Partnership Trade Deal. We sign trade deals all the time and when we do supply management protection for dairy, poultry and eggs is a big issue,” said Ms Hall Findlay, explained “Ninety per cent of supply managed farmers make up a mere seven per cent of all the Canadian farmers...we go through a lot to protect this tiny amount of farmers.”
“In the end, more or less, we agree to disagree. We voiced our concerns and hopefully it will put some light on the fact there is an issue here in the rural communities,” said Mr MacNevin.
“We don’t want to go the same way the hog industry. That’s where we will be without supply management,” said former board member for Dairy Farmers of PEI Peter Bulger.