Dairy farmers wary of federal effort to help industry

Concerns raised over vague details, funding access and impacts on growth

Shuswap dairy farmers are concerned federal funding intended to support the industry will be too difficult to access.

The federal government has earmarked $3.65 billion to help Canada’s dairy farmers whose operations have been hampered by increased competition resulting from free trade agreements.

Of the federal funding, $2.15 billion is being set aside to help farmers who have lost income due to trade deals made with countries in Europe and the Pacific Rim. An additional $1.5 billion is to compensate farmers who lose money when selling their production rights to another dairy farmer.

Nic Dewitt, who runs Dari Delite Farm in Sicamous, said on the surface the government’s measures are encouraging, but whether they will stop the long-term losses farmers are dreading is anybody’s guess.

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“What they’re doing is they’re actually giving away future growth in our own marketplace,” Dewitt said.

“If you don’t have any growth in any business it makes things pretty tough, especially when input costs are going up and margins are getting tighter. You have to be able to capitalize on the growth side of things – that’s the issue that everybody is facing in the dairy industry as producers.”

Dewitt said fewer people are looking to buy quota to either expand or start up a dairy operation amidst the uncertainty created by the free trade agreements. The sales at a loss that part of the government funding is meant to protect farmers from could become an increasingly common reality.

John Schut, a dairy farmer from Salmon Arm, expressed concern that bureaucracy would make the funds difficult to access.

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Schut says he has been disappointed by the onerous effort it has taken to access funds through previous government stimulus packages. Schut knows the application process to federal funds from experience, having applied for money towards a building project on the farm.

“We accessed some of those funds on a building project. It was very time consuming to apply for those funds, it took a lot of effort,” Schut said.

Schut thinks the upgrades he was able to perform on his farm with the last round of federal funding did succeed in making his operation more competitive.

“It’s just too vague, but you come to get used to that,” Dewitt said of the federal funding announcement

“Until something actually comes into place, it’s just kind of same old, same old. It doesn’t change anything in our day-to-day struggles.”

Dewitt said even for those farms that are able to maintain some growth in the face of competition from outside Canada, the trade deals are putting a pinch on the market and the milk price.

“On a first take, it’s encouraging that they will provide that funding. I will also say it would’ve been really nice if they didn’t sell us out in the first place. Sell us out and then get the Canadian taxpayer to pay for whatever has happened to the dairy industry,” Schut said.

“We would much prefer to be self-sufficient.”


@SalmonArm
jim.elliot@saobserver.net

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