Eastern coffee-row conversation

I was out East this past week. East being southern Ontario and southwestern Quebec. I was attending Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show, then visiting with some innovative producers in that neck of weeds about some newer, and some older, technologies they are exploring to improve their operations.

However, much to my chagrin, the thing most folks wanted to chat about was trade. It seems it takes up more of this space than I might like these days, but it matters a great deal to Canadian agriculture. Both for exports and imports.

Our economy depends on it. And when I say “economy” I don’t mean some nebulous concept or a thing that other people, someplace else, experience. I mean how trade affects us and the folks we know.

There are a lot more dairy cows in Central Canada per acre than out here in the West, so the attention to what happens with the North American Free Trade Agreements’ renewal is high. But, the fact is that cows eat at lot. And somebody is using their acres to produce that feed.

Grain and concentrates make up a little less than half of the average daily dry feed ration of a dairy cow. And there are about 950,000 of those critters in the country. Those animals chow-down on nearly seven billion pounds of non-hay or silage each year, including oilseed meals, wheat and corn. Plus, there are the acres needed for the billions of pounds of hay and silage.

Then there are the jobs associated with veterinary and dietary care, the machinery dealers, the builders and those who maintain these, the folks who milk and the farmers who grow the feed.

In 2016, dairy farms in Canada saw farmgate receipts of $6.17 billion. Dairy farmers’ margins are almost identical to those of grain producers, with an average of about 23 percent being returned after cash costs and being used to pay for capital costs and provide famer income, return on investment, and, of course, taxes.

While Canadian supply-managed dairy, in my mind and experience, won’t disappear as a result of the latest set of trade stumblings, it has created an opening for additional domestic and international criticism about the system.

And while Canadian farmers are as efficient and competitive as any on the planet, we are no match for a heads-up market struggle with the United States treasury and its better-defended producers.

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