LOWER TRURO, N.S. – Gerrit Damsteegt enjoys a morning walk through his 550 acres of farmland near Shubenacadie, looking across his fields of corn and soybean before milking his 150 cows.
Since emigrating from Holland more than 30 years ago, farming has given Damsteegt and his family a steady income and peaceful life. He currently chairs the Dairy Farmers of Nova Scotia organization.
But his livelihood may be threatened by a trade war with the United States, and the possibility that Canada’s supply management system could be put in jeopardy as a result.
“I can honestly say that we are the only group lobbying on Parliament Hill that doesn’t come there with their hand out asking for money. Our money comes out of the marketplace – but it only comes out of the marketplace because we control production,” said Damsteegt of supply management. “We don’t produce more than we need.”
He kept up his lobbying efforts in Lower Truro on Friday, meeting with James Bezan, federal conservative MP for Manitoba riding Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman, to discuss his concerns over supply management, which ensures farmers receive a fair price for dairy and other products.
Bezan assured Damsteegt that the Conservatives support supply management and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has said likewise.
But U.S. President Donald Trump – who has received support from farmers in states like Wisconsin – has demanded that Canada dismantle its supply management system or face trade penalties.
Bezan revealed one leading farmer in Wisconsin said they produced too much milk stateside and needed a dumping ground for excess products.
If supply management is abolished and foreign milk allowed into Canada, farmers like Damsteegt face peril.
Bezan promised Damsteegt that a future Conservative government would support farmers, adding that rural Canada was “under attack.”
“The abolishment of supply management will be devastating to any operation and the industry as a whole. Further to that, it will be devastating for the Canadian consumer, because they will not get a break on the milk and certainly if they want dairy farms to be here, they will need to be subsidized,” said Damsteegt.