Canada’s agriculture sector is rooted in three major commodities:
· Grain and oilseeds (34%);
· Livestock (red meat) (24%); and,
· Dairy (12%).
Horticulture (fruits, vegetables, flowers, maple, honey, etc.) accounts for another 9% and poultry and eggs for 8%.
Agriculture is big business in this country. But as big as the sector is (a record high in 2021 of $76.9 billion) and despite some impressive growth in recent years, #CdnAg still not a Top 10 industry for Canada.
Given this context, dairy (a distant third place finisher in a sector that isn’t one of Canada’s top 10 industries) gets a disproportionate amount of attention in Canada. That could be because our supply management system is the only one like it left in the industrialized world. Supply management is a lightning rod for many. Some claim it increases costs for consumers; others dislike the role of government regulation in industry.
I look it at as a safeguard. A buffer against out-of-control price increases and a guarantor of both supply and quality.
If supply management were to disappear and there was no Canadian Dairy Commission, would grocery bills have magically dropped and farmers been suddenly paid more? Unlikely.
I read a quote from Sylvain Charlebois, a dean at Dalhousie University, in a story by Global News posted April 19, 2017, where he said:
“Prices may drop in the short-term…but when places like New Zealand and Korea did away with supply management, prices actually went up after about five years.”
So doing away with it is not a solution for current consumer woes.
In fact, supply management could help absorb some of the costs involved in making dairy production carbon neutral.
Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) says it wants Canadian dairy farmers to strive for carbon neutrality by 2050. Who will pay for the technological innovations? The new ways of producing? Don’t search too much. It will be the farmers.
Our dairy farmers are always looking for new and better ways to farm. Supply management’s quota system allows them to plan such investments and gives their banks peace of mind about them lending the money to bring projects to life.
What types of things will the average farmer invest in to get to zero emissions by 2050? The DFC website offers some clues:
· Biodigesters (turning manure into green fertilizer and renewable energy);
· Carbon Sequestration (trapping carbon from the atmosphere within the soil);
· Improved Animal Nutrition (better cow diets mean less methane);
· Breeding Strategies (favouring cows that process feed most efficiently);
· Renewable Energy (installing solar panels, wind turbines, etc., on farms, weather permitting)
· Water Conservation
· Manure Management
· Tillage (less or no tillage)
· Crop Rotations
· Cover crops (secondary crops, between row of corn for example, help make soil healthier).
Sustainability won’t have to come at the expense of a farmer’s bottom line. Nor will it necessarily show up in the price of milk for consumers.
Under supply management, dairy farmers work together to ensure a fair return for farmers (whatever the production costs of a given year) and to meet domestic demand. Its efficiency is a hardwired element of its sustainability. And, as collective actions to save our planet ramp up, farmers costs to ‘get to net zero’ won’t be borne by consumers alone (or at all)
A consistent consumer of Canadian products (food, clothing, furniture, etc.), Isabelle Bouchard is a city girl now living in the countryside on a dairy and crop farm in Lac Saint-Jean, Québec.
Self-employed since 2019, she was previously employed by great Canadian companies and the Government of Canada. Consult her LinkedIn profile for details.
Isabelle is excited to participate with friends in this great project. Both Canadian producers and products need the support and love of Canadians to shine and prosper. There are so many people who denigrate our producers and our Canadian products that she feels it is almost a duty to participate in C3FC.