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OPINION: Debating whether to stay in business

Dairy cows much hay at a farm in Quebec. Shubenacadie dairy farmer Gerrit Damsteegt says supply management makes his industry more stable. Ryan Remiorz
Dairy cows munch hay down on the farm. The Canadian Press

Dairy farmers are receiving 62 cents for a litre of milk today; same price they were receiving in 1980s

BY MARLENE CAMPBELL

GUEST OPINION

(PART 2)

Dairy farmers have been silently hurting for some time now with the ongoing undermining of the supply management system. An example is that dairy imports have allowed processors to create new classes of milk, forcing prices down. Dairy farmers are receiving 62 cents for a litre of milk, the same price they were receiving in the 1980s. They struggle to meet costs of production as inputs continue to rise. Businesses serving those dairy farmers are starting to also feel the pinch.

I think the average Canadian wage earner can relate to this scenario.

Even before the federal government’s latest concession to the United States, many dairy farmers were already debating how long they could stay in business.

The size of a farm doesn't matter – all farmers are faced with depressed prices, increasing production costs, growing debt and falling equity. If nothing changes, and the deal is ratified, it will not take long until many are forced out of business. The Canadian consumer will likely find, that even if they do get a cheaper product in the dairy aisle, the overall cost to the local economy and infrastructure will far outweigh any short-term savings.

The dairy farmers of Canada have been made the sacrificial lamb in the recent trade negotiations. They took the hit for all Canadians and our economy. So, are Canadians now willing to step up, and make it right, by supporting those farmers? By doing so, they will be supporting their own interests?

The federal government has done a grave injustice to Canadian dairy farmers by giving away in three trade deals an ever-increasing percentage of their domestic market in favour of supporting other industries.

The market has no concern for the welfare of individuals, communities or borders. The study of recent history is showing that the economics and politics of “letting the market decide” means there are very few winners as the division of wealth is rapidly growing, and more and more people are getting left behind. Our government needs to protect the supply management system, which has served our economy so well. There is more at stake than a few spoiled, protected farmers.

President Trump did nothing long-term to help his unorganized free market farmers, who already had more access to the Canadian market than Canadian farmers had to the American market. He just spread the pain, and further concentrated wealth.

Canadian dairy farmers need to be vocal about what they have contributed to the Canadian economy and to the sovereignty of our food supply. Canadian farmers are proud business people who prefer to earn their paycheque over receiving subsidies, but now is the time for them to be willing to make public the economic insecurity they are facing and the disillusionment and anguish stemming from working sunup to sundown only to have control of one’s business torn away at a negotiating table by people so far removed from the farmer’s reality.

Canadian consumers need to listen and learn and stand behind their farmers. The supply management system, rightly fought for by farmers like my father, has great merit and deserves to be honoured and respected not just for farmers, but for all Canadians.

Canadian politicians need to pay attention to the reality of the situation and correct the wrong they carried out. Prime Minister Trudeau needs to stand up and say, it wasn’t a great deal for the dairy farmers of Canada, and that he will take the necessary steps to ensure the survival of an industry that was efficiently working until it became a pawn in government trade deals.

My father started with nothing, and often worked numerous jobs to build an honest efficient business. He was on his way to a dairy meeting in the fall of 1983 when his life was taken by an impaired driver. His work is carried on by his son and grandson for whom each day in the business has become a mental, physical, and financial struggle of uncertain survival no matter how long, hard or efficient they operate. They are not alone. It is a far cry from living the life of the “privileged, protected farmer.”

- Marlene Campbell of Arlington has a degree in political science, is an author, a former news reporter and now works in the cultural sector.

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