No doubt by now everyone has formed for themselves some opinion about the NAFTA trade talks.
Complex as the issues are, supply management for dairy and poultry is important in those negotiations. Dairy at times seems to get a lot of press, but the thinking in the articles, both pro and con, does not vary all that much.
One article from the Toronto Sun piqued my interest a little more. It ended with the statement that supply management makes dairy products more expensive, especially for the poor. Having been in agriculture my whole life, I did take some exception to that statement. After all, as others have pointed out, the price of milk in Canada is actually lower and more stable than in deregulated countries such as the U.S.
At the same time, I was thinking, “Is it time for a public mea culpa?” Do we as farmers do our part to help our neighbours?
It is not my intention in this commentary to write a sermon or short homily, but some quotes out of the Good Book come to mind reflecting on the statement about the poor.
In the Gospel of John (12:8), Jesus, just before suffering, said, “The poor you always have with you.” I believe that does not absolve us of helping our less fortunate neighbours. Both the Old and New Testaments have a lot of admonitions and instructions about doing just that.
Proverbs 27:2 also tells us, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” But I would like to recognize just a few of the efforts farmers are involved in to improve food security.
For example, farmers contribute to Canadian Foodgrains Bank projects all across the countryside. Obviously, this is not from dairy farmers alone, but there are also some special dairy-specific programs that help the less fortunate.
For over 20 years now, Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO), along with Ontario Dairy Council and Ontario Milk Transport Association has had a program with the Ontario Association of Food Banks where dairy farmers can donate milk to local food banks. This program is very successful, involving over 500 dairy farmers donating around one million litres of milk each year.
Every year, one of our local auction barns hosts The Ontario Mennonite Relief Heifer Sale. Dairy farmers donate heifers or, at times, young cows which are mostly bought by farmers. It is a combined effort with the sales barn, involving donated staff time, trucking, and printing of sales catalogues. It also generates contributions given by agricultural lenders and agribusinesses.
According to the Mennonite Central Committee website, since it started in 1982, the event has raised over $5 million to support the work of the Mennonite Central Committee.
These are just two worthy projects. There may be many more organized by other commodity groups unknown to me. For us it is always a good exercise to do an ongoing self-examination of what we are doing as farmers and as citizens to help the less fortunate at home and abroad.
Simon de Boer is an executive board director for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. He farms in the Grey-Bruce region.