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Talking the divide between U.S., Canada dairy supply systems

By Joel Penhorwood

The trip to Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show by several Ohio dairy farmers, thanks to the efforts of Hill’s Supply, put on display not only the latest in robotic milking technology, but also the relationship between Canadian and American dairy farmers in what has been a contentious time with regard to trade.

Ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations have highlighted the differences between the two countries on milk production.

“The dairy industry is challenging right now. As you look across Ohio and the nation, our nation’s dairy farmers are facing an economic downturn that’s rivaling the downturn that many of us remember in 2009,” said Frank Burkett III. Burkett, a dairy farmer and current president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, has signed a letter of intent on buying Hill’s Supply in the near future. “We look through Hill’s for ways to partner with dairymen to get through this cycle and move onto another cycle that hopefully delivers a little bit better economics and maybe a littler prosperity into dairy farmers.”

Trade is an essential part of market prices in any agricultural commodity, milk included. Burkett was talking trade with many Canadian farmers.

“Dairy and trade are a topic of conversation from the Farm Bureau perspective. Clearly as we look nationally, I would say there’s probably never been a time where there’s been more critical issues. Trade, the Farm Bill, immigration — there are a lot of big national issues that are impacting America’s farmers and ranchers,” Burkett said.

A difference in the American and Canadian supply systems has been brought forth through NAFTA talks. Canada operates on what’s known as a supply management system where dairy farmers are given a quota of how much milk to produce. The end goal being an attempt to control the supply and protection against a surplus.

Rick Shantz is an Ontario dairy farmer who said he and his fellow Canadians would like to see NAFTA completed and to allow both countries to move forward equitably.

“We’re running 200 acres and 100 cows. It’s a fifth generation dairy farm. My son’s helping me now,” said Shantz. “I think a lot of it just comes down to supply and management. If we don’t have the demand there, why are we supplying it? So I think that’s the bottom line and that’s our system. That’s the box they have kept us in and we’ve been able to grow moderately. Sometimes you would like to grow a little faster, but the system has kept us at a slow growth. It has worked very well and has been sustainable. We have given up some price over the last couple of years.”

“The box is a good thing. It’s here to stay. We in Ontario can compete, we can produce milk. The bottom line is we’re controlled.”

The space in between for U.S. and Canada milk export and import is where the details of NAFTA are at a sticking point. Some in Canada have responded to the call for relaxation of certain protectionist dairy policies with agreement, while others have drawn the line. Time will tell what results of the matter.

In the meantime, dairy farmers were busy looking at the latest in milking technology — Shantz included.

“We started robotic milking eight years ago now. We love the new robot. It’s pretty exciting to see the movement of technology and the future looks very promising,” he said.

The new DeLaval VMS V300 milking system was on active display, milking for the first time in North America. The system is a challenge to the Lely Astronaut which has been on several Ohio farms for a number of years. Hill’s Supply said they see the new robot as the next wave in efficiency for the robotic industry, with it boasting improved milking times and hookup efficiency.

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