Since the start of the current pandemic, Waterloo Region farmers have ensured a continuing supply of the highest quality food at reasonable prices anywhere. Industry challenges are unfortunately escalating and agriculture, like all Canadian business sectors, requires continuing government and public support.
On October 14, 2020, Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman issued a statement in advance of an upcoming Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Agriculture Meeting. He noted that farmers are continuously impacted by market volatility and disruptions, which have worsened since COVID-19. Furthermore, according to Minister Hardeman, the current issues for farmers and the agri-food sector are national in scope and require a national solution.
As an example of industry challenges, researchers at the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University recently released a report warning that half of all Canadian dairy farmers could disappear within the next decade. Quite simply, according to report co-author Sylvain Charlebois, consumers are not consuming a high volume of dairy products, a trend which is expected to continue as alternatives become more popular. Also in the equation is the increasing level of imported products flowing into Canada from international trade agreements.
The report does not propose the elimination of supply management but rather a new system – supply management 2.0 – which would reduce tariffs and open the Canadian market. The benefit would be wider international destinations for domestic producers, particularly niche and premium exports. Overall, the national diary industry would be far more competitive and innovative under this model which would also remove interprovincial barriers and incentivize innovation.
The most controversial provision of the report is the recommendation for the federal government to create a voluntary program for farmers to exit the industry, arguing that some producers are not investing in their operations and have no commitment to compete. There are currently 10,000 plus dairy farmers in Canada which the report expects to see cut in half by 2030.
Ironically, the chief economist of Farm Credit Canada recently indicated that dairy farmers have survived the pandemic relatively well and industry conditions should improve for 2021. Generally, production and consumption are stabilizing.
Canada needs farmers now and into the future. There is no other viable policy approach to move us forward.