Dairy farmers speak out after critical report

Canadian dairy producers think a recent think-tank report misses the benefits and exaggerates the challenges that their industry faces.

However, Dairy Farmers of Canada said it was pleased to see the benefits of supply management recognized in the Supply Management 2.0 report, even though it disagrees with the tone of the analysis.

“The authors observe that supply management ensures relatively stable levels of milk pricing and production over the long term, thus protecting Canadians from the wild fluctuations seen in other countries, yet they make theoretical recommendations that are at odds with the existing environment and elements of supply management,” said DFC president Pierre Lampon.

Related story: Dairy sector given dire warning about future

The report, published by Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab and University of Guelph’s Arrel Food Institute, and written by Sylvain Charlebois, Jean-Luc Lemieux and Simon Somogyi, said the current trends in the dairy industry will lead to a financially crippled sector unable to compete with foreign imports and shrinking to a tiny population of farmers.

DFC thinks the authors’ suggestion that the federal government buy back quota from some dairy farmers would be counterproductive.

“There is an implication in the report to reduce the level of domestic production, with a buyback program, when farmers will be striving to maintain and grow markets at a time when domestic food security is even more relevant,” said Lampon.

“Canadians recognize the importance of self-sufficiency in our food production. The pandemic has highlighted the weakness of models that rely disproportionately on foreign products.” The report notes that eliminating supply management might actually increase dairy prices, as happened in Australia, an acknowledgement that the DFC said shows the value of supply management’s ability to avoid shortages and surpluses.

The report claims that innovation and future-focused developments are being hampered by the supply management system because of the inflexibility and costs of the quota system, but DFC says the opposite is true.

Unlike some other sectors, the stability of supply management has actually promoted investments and innovation, as demonstrated by gains in efficiency and sustainability,” said Lampon.

“For example, since 2011, milk production has reduced its carbon footprint by seven percent. Many of those elements have progressed because of the stability provided by supply management, not in spite of it. Changing the system would put that at risk.” The report accuses the Canadian dairy industry of being resistant to change and defiant in the face of dangerous trends.

Lampon said the industry is always evolving. The federal government, provincial dairy organizations and national bodies are adapting the industry to numerous challenges, but maintaining a “vision which will continue to ensure that the dairy sector is an important source of jobs, growth and innovation, food security for Canadians and … high quality domestic dairy (production and industry) for future generations.”

Contact ed.white@producer.com

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