Dairy farmers around the state are struggling to survive after a change in Canadian policy that some are calling unfair, and the government is working to straighten out the situation.
Until they do, the farmers are left with few options. Sunday political talk show “UpFront with Mike Gousha” looked at possible solutions to the delicate trading dilemma.
“(The farmers) have nowhere to ship and sell product in a market that is oversupplied,” host Mike Gousha said. “As a result, they will lose their income, and some could lose their herds or even their farms.”
This month, about 75 Wisconsin dairy farms received letters from Grassland Dairy Products, a milk processing company, telling them that come May 1, Grassland will no longer buy and process the farms’ milk.
Grassland had to make cuts after Canada, a major trading partner, changed its pricing policies. Grassland provides Canada with ultra-filtered milk, a specialized milk type used to make cheese and yogurt.
Since 2011, Canada has encouraged U.S. producers to provide ultra-filtered milk, Ben Brancel, state secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said on the program.
Wisconsin producers did just that, building processes around the product and increasing volume to 365 million pounds exported to Canada in 2016.
“We have invested millions of dollars to support their economy,” Brancel said.
But last year, a Canadian policy lowered prices for Canada-made ultra-filtered milk, effectively edging out American producers.
Brancel said that starting last year when Canada began considering the change, he had met with Canadian officials “numerous times” to try to convince them to consider the seriousness of the matter for American farmers. He thinks Canada's intentions are good.
“I’m certain they’re doing it to protect their community and their own public,” he said.
But the effects of their actions on Americans are serious, Brancel said. If farmers can’t find a place to sell their product, family farms that have been around for generations could go out of business.
“Those daughters and those sons will not have a place to come home to,” Brancel said. “To all of a sudden shut the door on us makes it very difficult, because we have no chance to adjust to the marketplace they have put us in and the peril they have put our farmers in.”
The federal and state government can act to help out hurting farmers, Brancel said.
On a local level, the state needs to focus on processors, lenders, farm organizations and producers, helping them sort through the problem and partner with them to find solutions, Brancel said.
He said he has been in contact with the White House, updating them on the situation, and wants the federal government to push Canada to be more transparent about their pricing structures.
Last week President Trump called out Canada, and said the NAFTA trade agreement was a “disaster” in need of reform.
"Canada, what they've done to our dairy farm workers, it's a disgrace," Trump said. "Farmers in Wisconsin and New York state are being put out of business."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the problem lies with America's own dairy surplus.
"The US has a $400 million dairy surplus with Canada, so it's not Canada that's the challenge here," he said.
Brancel called the situation “delicate,” saying that Canada is an important trade partner with Wisconsin.
“We have to be very careful that the way we approach this is clearly understood and that we don’t put something in place that hurts other parts of our population here in our state,” he said.
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