Getting milked? Local farmers concerned with Trump’s intolerance of Canada‘s dairy supply management system

Dairy farmers in Alberta say they are caught in the middle of an emerging trade war between Canada and the United States after President Donald Trump targeted their industry on the heels of the G7 summit.

On Sunday, Trump targeted Canada’s supply-managed dairy system on Twitter and blasted Canada’s tariffs on U.S. dairy imports.

Canada‘s tariffs on the foreign import of dairy products currently range from nearly 300 per cent for excess butter and cream, to 270 per cent for certain dairy powders and 240 per cent for cheese, whole milk and yogurt.

Miranda Verhoef, who has owned the family-run Happy Cow Dairy near Olds, Alberta alongside her husband for the better part of two decades, found Trump’s threat worrisome.

“The president, he is so sure about the milk in the U.S. to here, but the U.S. has a big overproduction in milk already in an oversaturated world market,” said Verhoef “We have the supply management system that works, already for 60 years, and it ensures us that our milk stays local for a fair price.”

According to Verhoef, the state of Wisconsin produces more milk than all Canadian dairy farms combined and much of the American yield goes to waste. “How can we solve their milk problem?” Their overproduction problem?”

“We still have trust in our government that they will stand up for us. If not, there are 520 dairy farms in Alberta at risk right now.”

The president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, representing Canada’s roughly 12,000 dairy producers, defended the country’s supply-managed system. “Canadian dairy farmers and their families are concerned by the sustained attacks by President Trump with an aim to wiping our dairy farmers here at home,” said Pierre Lampron on Monday.  

Rona Ambrose, a member of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) panel and former interim Conservative leader, said Trump’s threat is being taken seriously. "We wouldn’t be surprised if he does it against our dairy sector, and perhaps our auto sector, so I think we have to be prepared for anything."

Ambrose says she understands that Canada’s supply management of dairy is a sensitive political subject but ‘in a trade negotiation, we have to be willing to put everything on the table.”

Critics of supply management systems say they are a barrier to the successes of free-trade deals, including NAFTA, and the limitations imposed on production results in steeper prices for the consumer.

Verhoef says Happy Cow Dairy will continue producing during this period of uncertainty because ‘consumers need milk’.

“It’s our livelihood. We depend on it in our families. It’s our life. It’s our work. It’s our income.”

With files from CTV’s Alesia Fieldberg, Rachel Aiello and The Canadian Press