TVO Puts Supply Management on “The Agenda”

Talk about supply management and whether or not it should fit in Canada’s future continues to find a place in our media. To be honest, whenever I see a link for a National Post article relating to the system for dairy, poultry and eggs, I have a hard time clicking since I can usually guess the author and the opinion. But when a tweet came across that TVO was hosting a debate on their evening current affairs show ‘The Agenda’, I couldn’t help but change the channel.

If you have never tuned in, the show on Ontario’s public station is hosted by one of the best journalists in the country. Steve Paikin is the man behind the desk for national leaders debates and for good reason. He asks good questions, always focuses on his guests, and will call ‘bull-shit’ (in a nicer way, of course) when the answer gets a little too political. He covers a lot of issues that don’t relate only to Ontario, so don’t be afraid to download his podcast.

IS SUPPLY MANAGEMENT REALLY ON THE TABLE?

The debate featured four men. Ron Versteeg is a dairy farmer and on the board of the Dairy Farmers of Canada. He appears to be the board’s spokesperson on this issue since I’ve seen his name and face several times over the last few weeks. Larry Martin is with the George Morris Centre, an agriculture policy think-tank that tends to push policy that leans right. Martin is well known in agriculture circles and always comes to the table with a well-researched, levelheaded approach. Bruce Muirhead was a new name for me. He is with the University of Waterloo as a professor of history and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research. He teaches history, America’s impact on Canada and foreign economic policy. Finally at the table, was the National Editor for MacLean’s magazine Andrew Coyne, who has penned a few editorials against the supply management system.

If you cannot see the below video click here

With the stage set, I’ll throw out by biases. Obviously as a young dairy farmer, I’m in favour of the system for a whole host of reasons. Second, I’m not a fan of media interviewing media on policy discussions. I don’t think Andrew should have been there. It should have been an economist or someone that puts more time and effort into agricultural policy, than someone that occasionally writes about it.

WHAT BOTHERS CASH CROPPERS ABOUT SUPPLY MANAGEMENT

With that in mind, I felt Ron put forward a good argument from the point of a dairy farmer. His note that we as farmers shouldn’t have to compete against US and EU treasuries is a strong point, of course beyond the points that everyone in the system wins from consistent price, supply and quality. On the other side of the table, Andrew put forward his thoughts on the system as to why it should go. Unfortunately, I would have rather seen Larry Martin make a lot of those comments, as it would have carried more weight. Larry was good at pointing out some of the issues with the system and issues with the argument, but Andrew always seemed to jump onto an idea faster so Larry didn’t get as much time as he should have. The fourth at the table, to me, was the winner of the debate. I’d never heard of Bruce before, but he is obviously a very-informed professor that goes beyond on the basics of economics. He pointed out a lot of the issues that don’t get mentioned by either the dairy industry or those that want to eliminate the system, including the hypocrisy of other countries trade policy (like the US that allows 3% dairy products in before hitting a tariff versus Canada’s 6%) and New Zealand’s ‘non-supply managed system’ (in which one co-op processor owns more than 90% of the market and local milk prices are higher than Canada’s).

Bruce’s arguments went beyond the usual: quota is too expensive – no it isn’t; milk prices are higher in Windsor than Detroit – but there are no subsidies; or trade policy is mixed up because Canada is protecting dairy, poultry and eggs – everyone protects something. He looked at the true realities in today’s globalized trade world: free and fair trade doesn’t exist, even for those that say they are leading the way.

Overall, the debate was a good one. If you have a chance, you can find it online at theagenda.tvo.org or from the iTunes store.

Now as much as I want it to, I know this debate isn’t going away anytime soon. Trade talks will mean many media outlets and economists will push the idea Canada is single handedly holding up talks by protecting dairy, poultry and eggs. Meanwhile, in other countries, farmers will still get government cheques (since subsidies are off the table in these trade talks), companies will be allowed to hold market control, and everyone will work to hold on to their measures that put up tariff walls and block foreign product.

Looking back, I think the only thing the industry did wrong when creating the system, was we called it one.

 

 

Andrew Campbell

Andrew is a dairy farmer in southern Ontario who also specializes in helping farmers learn about social media and advocacy. Once broadcasting farm news reports on the radio, he still likes to keep a close eye on news and issues relating to agriculture. Andrew is the owner of Fresh Air Media (http://www.thefreshair.ca), has a mild addiction to Twitter and believes the Brier & Scotties are the most important sporting events in the country. @FreshAirFarmer

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2 Comments

Carolyn

I think Ron should invite Andrew coyne to come milk for a week. I am not a dairy farmer any more. We gave up our cream cans when I was a child. our three cows were hand milked. Today’s dairy industry is safer, more streamlined and more sustainable than it ever has been. Canadians are not overpaying for any food, including milk. I am not willing to keep a “house cow” I’d far rather buy my dairy products at the price that allows dairy farmers to remain viable without taxpayers subsidy. Andrew, I challege you to maintain a milking parlour for one week. Talk to us again after three and three for 7 days.

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mercadee

Three decades ago, when egg and broiler production was 10 billion and 30 million, respectively, the total employment numbers in the poultry sector were not so encouraging. As income and employment in the crop sector started diminishing, the non-crop sector, which includes dairy and poultry, underwent a significant shift. With the demand for poultry increasing and production reaching 37 billion eggs and 1 billion broilers, this sector now employs around 1.6 million people. At least 80 percent of employment in the poultry sector is generated directly by these farmers, while 20 percent is engaged in feed, pharmaceuticals, equipment and other services required by the poultry sector. Additionally, there may be a similar number of people roughly 1.6 million who are engaged in marketing and other channels servicing the poultry sector.

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