Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr

In late April, Canadian dairy farmers suddenly found themselves the focus of the character count emanating from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter account.

The Donald would have us believe that Canadian farmers are purposefully destroying the lives of American dairy farmers through unfair competition. Of course, dairy farmers here are concerned about the amount of attention the U.S. president is exposing them to. No matter that there is little basis or fact to the Twitter feed from Trumpland — being the focus, even wrongly, of Trump’s warped perspective is unnerving.

Like me, you are likely tired of the endless babbling from south of the border — but I always work hard to try and find a silver lining in troublesome times. In this case, the president has helped to remind us why supply management is key to treating dairy farmers fairly.

The problem is that Canadian dairy farmers, with the help of supply management, are too competitive. In order to deal with cheaper, tariff-free imports of dairy coming in from the U.S. due to a NAFTA loophole and driving Canadian farmers out of business, our dairy producers and processors have agreed to lower the price of some dairy products in order to compete with cheaper U.S. products. Supply management allows for this type of collective decision.

This new strategy is effectively encouraging Canadian companies to buy domestic milk products. And it is working — our dairy industry is growing. Now Canadian cheesemakers can buy the ingredients they need in Canada. This newfound competitiveness means that Canadian cheesemakers who had been importing U.S. milk ingredients tariff-free can now access what they need on the Canadian market.

And Canada’s 12,000 dairy producers are benefiting from this price adjustment because of supply management. Still, Trump has little to complain about since the dairy trade surplus is about $450 million in favour of the U.S.

But to help Trump understand how implementing supply management could benefit American dairy producers, the National Farmers Union (NFU) President Jan Slomp tried a bit of Twitter diplomacy — tweeting the president a link to a little bit of educational reading material.

Here is what Jan Slomp said in a recent media release:

“We have compassion for American family farmers who are experiencing record low farm-gate milk prices. We understand many are forced to take on terrible debt loads. Those who cannot survive this crisis are seeing their hopes and dreams dashed. This is the very situation our own farmers were in 50 years ago,” said Jan Slomp, NFU President.

“In President Trump’s speech on Tuesday (April 18), he said he wasn’t just looking for answers, he is looking for a solution. We decided to share with the President the principles of a system that will work for dairy farmers, rural communities, processors, workers consumers and governments.”

“American dairy farmers are facing the same problems dairy farmers in the European Union, New Zealand and Australia are struggling with: prices so low they don’t cover the cost of production. When everyone tries to make up for low prices by producing more of a perishable product, it just makes the problem worse,” explained Slomp. “The USA cannot solve its dairy crisis by taking over the Canadian dairy market and putting our farmers out of business. But if it adopts its own supply management system, it could begin to restore prosperity to rural America.”

“This solution, which we call Supply Management, was created by Canadian farmers and governments in the late 1960s. Instead of exporting milk, we would be pleased to export this unique and successful dairy policy innovation,” added Slomp.

Touché — tweet for tat!

Read the full letter here to enrich your understanding of how supply management has made a difference for Canadian farmers — and how the NFU is looking for the silver lining by taking advantage of what can politely be called a “teaching moment” with President Trump.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column “At the farm gate” discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr

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Lois Ross

Lois L. Ross has spent the past 30 years working in Communications for a variety of non-profit organizations in Canada, including the North-South Institute. Born into a farm family in southern Saskatchewan,...