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Fight for the family farm in Nafta negotiations

Maple Ridge’s Laity family fears for the future
The Laity farm is a century-old institution in Maple Ridge. Matthew Laity explained his great grandfather Algernon built the barn on the right in 1912, along with a house and shed, then his grandfather James built the traditional red barn in about 1962. (Neil Corbett/ THE NEWS)

If Donald Trump and NAFTA negotiators get their way, and get access to Canadian milk markets, it could spell the end of family dairy farms in Canada, says long-time Maple Ridge farm family member Matthew Laity.

“It’s pretty scary, for sure,” said Laity, who has been watching the negotiations closely. “There is a lot of pressure on Canada, but there has been good support for farmers from government.”

The NAFTA negotiations threaten to tear down Canada’s supply management system that sees farmers own a quota of the milk that they are able to produce.

The U.S. president had set a deadline of Friday for a NAFTA deal, but talks are continuing this week.

The supply management system is designed to keep prices stable and eliminate waste caused by over production, and it applies to eggs, poultry and dairy.

That quota is a valuable commodity in itself, said Laity, and its loss would turn the dairy industry on its ear in Canada.

“That changes the whole game, and that changes the way banks look at us. And most farmers have a close relationship with their bank,” he said.

They need financing, because land values, quota, machinery and cattle are all expensive.

“I most certainly am worried. It [the outcome of NAFTA negotiations] could affect my viability to continue as a farmer.”

The reason, he said, is because industrial farms in the U.S. would flood the market in Canada with cheap milk. He said some consumers might hope for cheaper dairy products, but he believes quality would suffer. For example, Canadian dairy herds cannot be given steroids, but in the U.S. they can.

“Canada has some of the best milk quality in the world. But when you’re trying to compete for the lowest price, that’s not something that goes hand-in-hand with quality.”

The U.S. dairy industry is so massive, a single state – Wisconsin – produces more dairy products than all of Canada, according to Pierre Lampron, president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

“Clearly, the Canadian market is too small to make a dent in U.S. overproduction,” Lampron told the Los Angeles Times.

“While Canadians enjoy stable prices and supply, the U.S. market is vulnerable to unexpected surplus of product, driving prices down for farmers and disrupting the market for consumers,” Lampron wrote on the Dairy Farmers of Canada website.

“President Trump’s latest attack against Canadian dairy is misguided and does not solve the fundamental issues surrounding the instability of U.S. dairy.

However, President Trump isn’t going after the system of supply management as much as looking to dump surplus subsidized U.S. dairy products on the Canadian market.”

Laity also argues that U.S. farmers benefit from more direct government subsidies, although they don’t have supply management.

The Maple Ridge dairy farm, on 123rd Avenue, near Laity Street, was started by his great-grandfather Algernon, and has been passed down.

Matthew Laity’s 21-year-old son Jeremiah is in university now, but wants to one day take over the family farm.

“He is looking to continue the tradition,” Matthew Laity said.

Langley dairy farmer David Davis has 250 cows, but said he would need his herd to expand to at least 600 to compete with larger American farms. They would need a bigger farm, and would be forced to leave the Milner-area farm that has been in his family since 1885, he said.

“It’s a very scary time,” said his wife Nicole Davis.

Also waiting to hear how the NAFTA deal is finalized are the poultry and egg producers of the Fraser Valley.

“We’re all kind of on pins and needles,” said Bill Vanderspek, executive director of the British Columbia Chicken Marketing Board.

The industry employs many people directly and indirectly in B.C., Vanderspek said.

“We produce two million broiler chickens a week in British Columbia,” he said. Of those, 85 per cent are grown in the Fraser Valley.

Depending on those farmers are the feed mills, egg hatcheries, and local processing plants.

“It’s a tremendous amount of economic activity here in the Fraser Valley,” Vanderspek said. “Those towns would look a lot different without the poultry and dairy industries.”

– with files from

Matthew Claxton

Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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