Emotions have been riding high in the past 7 days over the future of Supply Management here in Canada after Prime Minister Harper stated Canada’s desire to be included in the Trans Pacific Partnership. This is the first time since NAFTA that there have been serious concerns surrounding the future of SM here in Canada and for the collective group of farmers that have billions of equity tied up in quota, any threat to the system is scary.
Beyond the economic impact, SM farmers are taking a beating in popular Canadian press as journalists have branded them greedy profit takers who are more interested in padding their pockets then the reality. Canadian Dairy and Poultry farmers work hard every day to efficiently produce the highest quality food products for Canadian consumers.
As a farmer coming from a non-supply managed industry I have often identified with certain criticisms, especially when they relate to trade. The future of my business depends on having vibrant export markets and bi-lateral deals such as this one are integral for opening up global market access. That being said, cannibalizing SM will not make my business, or my industry as a whole, better. It would have a demoralizing effect for agriculture in general and it would worsen the economic crisis that is already ravaging our rural communities.
So how do we find a common ground? SM farmers must be willing to make some concessions to their system. First and foremost, they need to address the policies that are having a negative impact and can be changed easily through policy reform. Here in Ontario, the removal of the quota cap will immediately free up the quota exchange, allowing the farmers that want to milk more cows the ability to do so. This will stem the speculative land purchases that are adding unneeded fuel to an already hot land market. Secondly, there must be a willingness to explore the possibility of reducing (not eliminating) import tariffs for products over a long period of time. This will give Canadian exporters leverage in trade talks while not causing a massive collapse in milk price.
Non SM and SM farmers have managed to live cohesively since the inception of the system and we have a mutual co-dependence on each other that cannot be ignored. Non SM farmers have more potential for economic growth; this encourages investment into new infrastructure (feed mills, grain elevators, input supply, etc.) that benefits both parties. On the flip side, our suppliers enjoy the stability brought about by SM farmers because it can partially offset the periods of low prices that come with farming in the free market.
As a show of good faith for my SM farming friends, I will no longer speak out in opposition of SM. These farmers are incredibly good at what they do and the media fails to acknowledge that the burden of servicing quota debt has actually made many SM farmers more efficient then their global competitors. Beyond being efficient, they deliver a product that is safer then any other option in the global market.
I have publically spoken out against SM in the past because of the harm I felt it was doing to my business. After a period of reflection this week I have realized that we cannot afford to fight amongst ourselves at such a pivotal time in Canadian agriculture. The two sides will not always see eye-to-eye but like any good marriage we have to recognize that our partner makes us better and be willing to compromise for the sake of the relationship.