Dairy farmers in the province have had a tough year. Along with numerous other industries, they were hit hard by Hurricane Dorian in September, and the incoming new North American trade agreement will make more competition in the market.
Brian Cameron, general manager of Dairy Farmers of NS, says Nova Scotia is home to over 200 family-owned dairy farms, which produce over 200 million liters of milk annually.
“We’re quite happy to be part of the national system,” he says.
As a province, Nova Scotia produces 2.2 per cent of the national milk consumption. But a partnership with four other provinces means we share the market.
“Over 20 years now we’ve worked with Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI,” Cameron explains. “All the dairy farmers in those five provinces share revenues. We blend or average the revenues from the markets that we sell our milk into.”
The dairy farmer says this is beneficial for the three smaller Maritime provinces who are a part of the partnership.
“If there’s market growth in one of the provinces, that gets shared proportionally across the other four. And that’s been a great thing for the three small Maritime provinces, to be aligned with the two biggest dairy provinces, Quebec and Ontario,” he says.
But Cameron tells NEWs 95.7 that the early fall hurricane largely impacted grain corn, which many dairy farmers grow themselves as feed for cattle.
“Unfortunately Dorian interrupted that and messed up a lot of corn fields,” he says. “But then you have to turn around and buy in grain corn from another province to make up the ration.”
This means once again Nova Scotian dairy farmers may be dependent on bigger provinces to supply grain corn for cattle feed.
“But we definitely have to rely on other jurisdictions like PEI or New Brunswick or maybe from central Canada to get the grain corn in that we weren’t able to harvest this year because of Dorian,” adds Cameron.
As dairy farmers within Canada work together, Cameron says another challenge will soon present itself: the new USMCA.
The trade agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States will allow for American-made dairy products to be sold in Canada. And Canadian farmers need to stay competitive.
“The pricing studies that have been done recently show that Canadian dairy products are priced quite competitively with those in the U.S. and those in other countries,” says Cameron.
Unlike Canada, where the price of milk is stable, Cameron says dairy prices in the U.S. fluctuate frequently.
“In the U.S. system, if the milk price is low, their producers try to produce more milk to make up for the low unit price. And when the milk price is high of course they want to produce more milk to make more profit,” he says. “So the equation there is to always produce more milk. They’ve got way too much milk and it’s not managing the supply the way we do in Canada.”
Cameron says it’s important that Canadians support the local market, which unlike that of the States, is not government subsidized.
“There’s no government money coming to support milk production within Canada. Our producers for that 200 million liters of milk, they receive 100 per cent of their returns from the marketplace, not from the government,” he adds.
South of the border, some Canadians are drawn to cheaper milk prices. But Cameron says that overall, Canadians will get more bang for their buck when supporting their own farmers.
One of the things that we’re wanting to do is to make sure that Canadians know about the supply management story but also know about the benefits of having a dairy industry in Canada, and will choose Canadian dairy products over the U.S. products that come in,” says Cameron.