Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Some Lessons You Learn the Hard Way - Response to the $25,000 Cow

With Teresa's post about Skinny Bitch  fresh in my mind, I learned a very valuable lesson about agvocacy this week. Namely, know thy enemies.

The scenario was this. editor Andrew Coyne wrote a scathing piece on supply management. You can read it here. Well written, it raises several points against supply management. I actually agree with a few, because I do believe the system has some flaws that dairy farmers need to be attentive to fixing.  However, for the most part, the editor seems to be drawing opinions from reports produced by economists who potentially know very little about supply management.

I disclose right now, I grew up on a dairy farm. In future posts, I can go into why I feel supply management has a place in Canadian agriculture; that is not going to be my focus today.

The article made me a little angry. The comments from readers seemed to be split down the middle regarding those 'for' and those 'against' supply management. Fueled by some frustration, I was determined to have my say. I commented on a stream related to quality and hormone use.

If you removed supply management, you would be encouraging farmers to produce more milk, so that they can make up the income they've given up in lower price. BST/BGH hormone is used to increase a cow's milk production. Therefore, whether the hormone was legal or not, there would be incentive for a farmer to obtain and use it. Under the current supply management system, there is no incentive to produce excess supply, therefore there is no incentive to use BST.

I also noted the more pressing concern about the possibility of taking away consumers' access to Canadian milk by removing supply management.

Perhaps, you should consider what has happened in the rest of the non-supply managed agriculture industry in Canada. Lower-than-cost-of-production prices have driven so many pork and beef producers out of the industry, and too many regs have closed so many processors you can barely buy a Canadian product. 2 years ago when milk prices were in the basement, U.S. dairy farmers were going bankrupt. You may pay a little more (the gap is relatively small), but you are getting Canadian milk. There are minimal regulations monitoring imported food. Pay less, risk not getting what you think.

Neither paragraph is what I would call a well organized collection of points. Nor, does it necessarily say all I wanted to in response to the article. Even still, it is not writing I am proud of. But, I posted it.

I posted it, expecting a response from some of the users who had already commented and agreed with the article's points.

What I received was quite different. I was shocked to have my comment berated by other farmers. Once again, we have failed ourselves by arguing amongst ourselves in the face of the consumer. If I had been a consumer reading the comments, I would've been thoroughly confused. One user commented they are accessing world markets and being successful (why can't dairy also), while another commented that supply management is preventing them from accessing these same markets and realizing their true potential. Isn't there a contradiction here?

I was totally deflated. I wanted to respond to each comment but was unable out of fear this may turn into a real squabble over the sandbox. So, I gave up. I went to bed frustrated with my own inability to better express myself and for being blindsided by my own team. A national news magazine like Macleans gave us a forum to educate consumers, agvocate for our industry, and unfortunately, some would rather use it to point fingers and lay blame. Canada needs all farmers. Until we, as an industry recognize this and work together, we can not have any hope consumers will understand or support us.  After all, what's bacon without eggs?

Note: Returning to the article today, there have been many more users who provided insightful, considerate comments, which restored my faith in our ability to tell our story. My hat goes off to them.


  1. Given that I was the author of a berating comment... Disagreeing with each other on hot button issues is not failing ourselves, it is exactly what we are supposed to do. If everyone fell in line with the status quo our country would be an awfully dull place.

    Beyond the importance of debate, it is impossible for us to "unite" about everything as long as there is contradiction in Canadian ag policy. Supply Management harms free market industries, that fact cannot be denied. It handcuffs trade negotiators, it increases operating costs, and it skews the marketplace for inputs because certain farmers are not forced to listen to market signals while others are.

    Above all of this however, is my amazement that we have lost our ability to disagree with each other without someone taking personal offence. When I disagree with someone, there does tend to be emotional drivers to my comments but I don't think less of a person because they don't think the way I do.

    When I wrote my comments, I was not attacking the Savvy Farmgirl, I was disagreeing with her view on that specific issue and I can't understand why we cannot separate these things. There are many issues in which we are on the same page, the importance of telling consumers the farm story, being good stewards of the land, etc. I would argue that most of the time Canadian farmers unite around the majority of the issues, just not the Supply Management question.

  2. One size does not fit all. I think Savvy Farmgirl has shown respect for varied opinions - like in previous blog posts on Farm Inc. This type of initiative - like those of activists that keep OFAC and farmers on their toes - is enough to make any Canadian farmers frustrated - and me - when I have city friends asking me - please tell me this is not like that in Canada... Well it is and it isn't... but farmers have nothing to be ashamed of, and yes, I agree we need to continue being agvocates! one day, it's supply management being attacked, another day it's the bailouts to farmers that have been hurt by the harshness of cyclical market conditions.

  3. I take offense, because I have so much passion for the subject, just as we all do. I think everyone would agree if we didn't have that passion, then we are in the wrong industry.

  4. I just saw this post now. Thanks for mentioning my Skinny Bitch posts! I'll admit that I don't know much about supply management considering I grew up with beef cows, not dairy cows. But I agree with your comments in the second last paragraph. An article in a national magazine such as Macleans is a great opportunity to connect with consumers. And the ag industry needs to show more of a unified front. And I believe it's important to be passionate about your industry. If you don't have that passion, you shouldn't be in it.