Sunday November 23, 2014

Not time for supply mangement sacrifice


I recently read an opinion piece suggesting Canada’s supply-managed systems should go.

The main selling point of that idea is not a new one.

There is a belief among some that Canada could sacrifice its supply-managed sectors, poultry and dairy primarily, and by so doing the doors of trade access would swing open to international markets for a broader range of Canadian farm production.

In the process the Canadian poultry and dairy sectors might well take a major mauling, but those suggesting the change point out 90 per cent of Canadian farmers rely on export sales for their production, so the sacrifice of a few is justified for the good of the more.

That thinking has always been one which escapes me, perhaps because I grew up in Saskatchewan once the bastion of socialism in this country, maybe because I’ve realized that even the few need to have their needs addressed among the many.

The dairy and poultry systems, and their quota-based production limits are an interesting sector of farming, a sector which is almost an anomaly in agriculture. That anomaly is that for the most part you rarely hear farmers in those sectors complaining about things.

While they might well believe they should have a bit more quota, or wish their margins were better, they have what many producers have wished for in the past, a system which is based at least in principle on recovering a producer’s cost-of-production.

We haven’t heard that lament the last few years from grain and oilseed producers because prices have taken care of things.

But it wasn’t that long ago farmers gathered in town halls all over the Prairies talking about the government coming up with some relief system more closely tied to a cost-of-production.

If anyone thinks the days of general farm losses won’t come again they might want to talk to sheep producers who have seen their good prices of the last couple of years evaporate this spring.

The other thing supply management does is create a system where consumers actually pay a price for what they eat more closely tied to production costs on a Canadian farm.

There are those who argue milk and eggs and chicken would be cheaper if supply management was dismantled.

If that means chicken and milk from Mexico I’m not impressed with the idea. If we pay a little more to assure we have milk produced under Canadian regulations and in our country, it’s a good thing.

And in general the idea of consumers paying more is not a bad thing. The food in a grocery bag is still reasonably-priced. Take out all the non-food items we now buy at a grocery store, from laundry detergent to shoe polish, and the ‘grocery bill’ price looks far better.

Is supply-management ideal?

Of course not, but the dairy and poultry sectors have fared better in recent years than the hog sector which has been battered to the point the sector’s future was/is in question.

So talk of dismantling the sectors on a hope of market access and limited consumer price relief just doesn’t make sense to me.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.



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