At least one District of Kent dairy farmer has been losing sleep this week as ongoing trade negotiations between the U.S. and Canada loom over the future of his livelihood.
Just on the other side of Mount Woodside from Agassiz, Mike Duncan manages a dairy farm that’s been in his family for five generations – since 1885. He says if industry protections dissolve, and supply management with them, his 60-cow, family-sized dairy farm will be no more.
“I’ll be out of business. I won’t make it,” he said. “Trump is using farmers as pawns in his game.”
Duncan characterizes Trump’s efforts for increased access into Canadian markets as an effort to push the U.S.’s extra dairy products into Canadian stores.
“In his world, the excess milk from the U.S. would end up on our store shelves and push us out of business,” Duncan said.
Also a member of Mainland Milk Producers Association, Duncan employs only two people on his farm. He says he’s one of the smaller farms in the area, but most dairy farms in Kent only have between 65 and 150 cows. Some are bigger, but Duncan says all of them will suffer if supply management falls.
“Agriculture is huge [in Canada], we’re a big dairy hub. There’s 11,000 farms…What happens when that all goes away?”
Supply management was designed to put more power into the hands of Canadian farmers, allowing them to act collectively in determining price and production. Proponents of the system say it creates a quota for poultry, eggs and dairy – stabilizing price swings that could put small and mid-sized farms out of business.
The system is often criticized as a driver in the high price of dairy and poultry products in Canada, but Duncan doesn’t see it that way.
“All supply management has done is allowed us to negotiate a fair price to the processors,” he said. “We pay into the system and we get a certain amount of back and at least we have a structure where we know, a few months ahead of time, this is how it’s going to be [priced].”
In fact, Duncan points to subsidies in the U.S. for lower dairy prices – money that comes out of taxpayers’ pockets, whether they drink milk or not. He says without supply management, consumers will still pay a high price for dairy and poultry.
“The consumers are going to have to pay for it twice – they’ll have to pay for it at the grocery store and pay for it through their taxes,” he said.
While it has long been a source of controversy in Canada and between its various trade partners, supply management was recently pushed onto the political stage with U.S. President Donald Trump taking aim at the regulatory process during the re-negotiating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada.
Trump has harshly criticized Canada’s dairy industry and continues to threaten leaders with tariffs to push Canada into conceding to his demands of increased market access for U.S. farmers.
While Duncan’s still nervous heading into Friday – the day NAFTA decisions are slated to roll in – he says he has faith in the Trudeau government at the bargaining table.
“I think [Trudeau] has made his commitment to [farmers] and that’s nice to know. He’s sticking it to Trump.
“We’re self-sustained, why would we give up our sovereignty to another country?” he said. “They don’t have the same guidelines and expectation that we have. Our milk is the best in the world, hands down.”