Apr 20, 2017 by Lee Hart

Canada was a great country until the Great Cheese War of 2017

Never mind threats from Russia or North Korea, Canadians should be prepared for bombings from the U.S. any day now as tensions heat up over this cheese business.Canadian cheese 2

I don’t know how Canadian dairy producers can sleep at night knowing they are ripping off their poor U.S. dairy producer cousins to the south…well not all of the 75,000 U.S. producers… just the 75 to 80 farmers in northern U.S. states such as Wisconsin and New York who are having trouble selling their over production of milk.

It sounds like we are going to war over a milk protein, which seems ridiculous, but 150 years ago Britain and France were duking it out for possession of a new country called Canada and that was largely about the beaver pelt trade, so why not go to war over cheese?

I am pretty sure this issue will go away, and Canada will not be at war but it really underscores how ridiculous U.S. president Donald Trump can be when he makes international headlines with comments based on wrong information over what is really a non-issue.

Trump was on the news this week threatening to take Canada to the proverbial woodshed over some “very, very bad” trade policies that were unfair and creating hardship for the U.S. dairy industry. (Another example of why NAFTA is the absolutely worst trade agreement ever written.) He made the comments while he was at an event in Wisconsin — a large dairy producing state with about 9,500 dairy producers. The fact is about 75 of those 9,500 producers — that’s right 75 farms — are having trouble selling their milk and they are blaming it on Canada.

I’m no expert on the dairy industry, but the issue involves a protein product called diafiltered or ultrafiltered milk. It is a component extracted from whole milk. For years U.S. processors have been producing the product and it has been shipped into Canada tarriff free, supposedly as a non-dairy product to be turned around and used a dairy component for products such as cheese. Sort of an end-run around dairy trade rules.

Wisconsin cheeseAdmittedly it has been a sore point for the Canadian dairy industry. What’s happened, as I understand it, is that Canadian processors are now producing their own diafiltered milk (protein) and they no longer need to buy the U.S. product. So this has affected a market outlet for U.S. producers of diafiltered milk, they don’t need as much raw milk at their processing plants, and that has affected these 75 farmers in Wisconsin.

It is really a business issue. It is about supply and demand. It’s about using your “made-at-home” products that support your own industry. These are all things that Donald Trump should clearly understand as he beaks off about his protectionist measures — Americans need to look after Americans. But for some reason in his mind it is not okay for Canadians to look after Canadians.

I feel badly for these 75 U.S. milk producers. They are over producing milk to supply a market that is disappearing and according to news reports some may go out of business. And that is really too bad.

But Canada knows all about a decline in the dairy farming industry — about global business, trade and economic issues, which over the years have forced thousands of Canadian family dairy farms to sell their cattle. There were about 175,000 dairy farms in Canada in 1967. That dropped to about 80,000 in 1975. There were about 18,000 in 2002 and today there are about 11,300 dairy farms in Canada.

I grew up on a 30-cow dairy farm — the country was full of them in those days and it was a good life— but like it or not in the name of progress they weren’t economical and many/most have disappeared. The bar on what makes an economical dairy farm keeps rising every year. Just as the bar on what makes an economical grain, beef, pork or poultry operation, or the bar that makes an airline, automaker, oil company or grocery store economical — the bar seems to always keep rising.

It would be okay if Donald Trump’s yaking amounted to “all talk and no action”, but there appears to be an increasing risk his uninformed thinking could lead to some drastic or unreasoned action. Detective Joe Friday always wanted “just the facts ma’am”. Although Trump is old enough to remember that radio and TV detective series he obviously missed the message.

Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Hart

Lee Hart


Lee Hart is a long-time farm writer, and honorary member of the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, with many observations on the agriculture industry, who never hesitates to admit he is wrong (should that ever happen.)


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