'Bizarre' Trump tweets a concern for Sask. dairy farmers

Don't blame Canadian dairy farmers for U.S. struggles, says P.E.I. chair

Saskatchewan dairy producers are shaking their heads after watching the U.S. president tweet earlier this week about dairy tariffs.

"We really don't know why this got so hard into his crosshairs," said Joy Smith, a manager of policy and communications with SaskMilk, which represents dairy producers across Saskatchewan. 

"It's concerning because nobody likes being attacked."

Trump recently called out Canada for its tariffs on imported dairy, quotas and fixed prices — measures that have existed for years.

Smith said unlike the new U.S. tariffs of 25 per cent on Canadian steel and aluminum, existing dairy tariffs are legal and comply with every international trade agreement Canada has signed.

"There's a lot of hate and a lot of negativity being heaped on [dairy farmers] right now and I don't think that's fair," said Smith.

SaskMilk said 4,800 jobs in Saskatchewan depend directly on dairies and dairy processing, contributing $430 million annually to the province's bottom line. 

Unlike their Canadian counterparts, American dairy farmers receive $3 billion in subsidies each year, Smith said. Canada has also banned the use of growth hormones in dairy cows, while their use is permitted south of the border.

Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, said Canada needs to create a long-term plan if it wishes to end supply management for poultry and dairy farmers.

"If you are to get rid of quotas tomorrow morning and you would get rid of tariffs on imports tomorrow morning as well you'd see the complete collapse of a sector," said Charlebois. "Most dairy farms in Canada would not survive."

Smith said the number of dairies in Wisconsin alone dwarfs the number of dairies in Canada.

"They could flood our entire market, displace all of our Canadian farmers and Canadian milk and it still wouldn't solve their overproduction problem," she said. "It's really quite bizarre."

She said supply management ensures families who run dairies can pay their bills and make a living, while consumers get a wide variety of milk and dairy products.

"There's no benefit to us to be a dumping ground for the U.S. milk because as we've seen from previous examples it doesn't result in cheaper prices for the consumer," she said.

Saskatchewan currently has 165 dairy farms, which are all family-owned, according to SaskMilk.

Smith said Canada has been able to successfully negotiate trade deals with 44 countries without scrapping supply management.

"All countries have areas that are sensitive that they protect with tariffs or subsidies, we're not unique," she said.