Matthew Laity. (THE NEWS/files)

Maple Ridge dairy farmers speak out in defense of supply management

Discussion spurred by President Donald Trump’s recent demand that Canadian government dismantle system

Kevin Davison is a fourth generation dairy farmer in Maple Ridge who is growing increasingly concerned over President Donald Trump’s attacks on the Canadian supply management system.

His family farm has been rooted in the community for more than 100 years, but without Canada’s supply management system he says his farm and others would find it difficult to survive.

“He’s not your typical president. He tries to run the country as a business and he’s very protectionist. He wants to protect American workers and protect American farmers and he should. That’s his job,” Davison said of Trump.

“But when it comes to agriculture, he’s just going about it the wrong way if he wants to try and attack or use Canada as a dumping ground to get rid of his surplus production.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended Canada’s supply management system, which sets quotas for dairy, eggs and poultry and charges high tariffs above that threshold.

The protected dairy system caps production to avoid oversupply and maintain stable prices for farmers.

Davison says the United States needs to look within its borders to find a solution to its problem.

Sentiments like Davisons are being echoed by dairy farmer’s across the country.

An Ontario dairy farmer with Mayhaven Farms who goes by the online moniker ‘Farmer Tim’ posted a public letter to President Trump on Facebook that has been shared more than 4,000 times. In it, he explains that, as a Canadian dairy farmer, he has worked hard for what he has, just like many American dairy farmers. He explained how when supply management was born that, “farmers got paid fairly for their milk based on their cost of production and consumers paid a fair price to have fresh , local milk from well-cared for cows.”

Canada’s supply management system was put in place during the 1960s to stabilize market conditions.

“Farmers would go out of business when the price dropped and when the price went up, then a whole bunch of people would start milking cows again and they we would have too much milk,” explained Davison, adding that the Canadian system stabilizes milk procution year round to make sure fresh product stays on grocery shelves.

Currently in America, there is what is called a U.S. Farm Bill that goes to congress every five years and is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the American government.

“And they approve billions and billions of dollars to subsidize farmers,” Davison explained, noting that dairy farmers in America have to sell their milk below the cost of production and then the government uses tax dollars to bolster the price up so the farmers can hopefully stay in business.

And, Davison added, it is the small farmers who are under extreme pressure because larger farms can weather the storm because of the size of their business.

“I like what Trump is doing in the States. I think that he’s got their economy booming. He’s got a really interesting negotiating tactic, but that comes from being a business man. And he likes to stir the waters with what he says,” said Davison.

“His rhetoric gets people up in arms and everybody hates him, but it gets the discussion going. And I think that’s really all he wants to do,” Davison said about the current political climate.

“One minute he hates Justin Trudeau, and the next minute, you watch down the road in a few months, they’ll be shaking hands and be best friends.”

Matthew Laity, whose family dairy farm on Golden Ears Way was founded in 1879, also hopes the Canadian government stands firm in its backing of the Canadian supply management system.

“In Canada, we supply our milk supply to meet the demand and it works very well. that’s through quota,” said Laity.

“I’m happy to see support for supply manged sectors for sure. That’s what lets small family farms like me still survive versus the large mega farms,” he said.

Last year, Laity made the change to organic milk production, so now his milk costs a little more to reflect the cost of production, which, he said, is not as affected by Trump’s rhetoric.

“Where the battle happens is people trying to buy the cheapest milk, they are going to get the cheapest milk,” he said.

“It’s very scary for all of us, especially in the current climate where the world price for milk is low right now and that’s all around the world there is kind of an over production situation,” he added.

“This is a capital intensive job with debts involved.

Laity said that if the market were to change, dairy farming would become increasingly difficult.

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