Tom Robinson readily admits to being worried whether supply management will be intact if Canada becomes a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Negotiations are now down to the wire for a deal that would involve Canada and 11 other nations. The United States and New Zealand have been pressuring Canada to allow greater access to its domestic dairy market-- something many within the dairy industry fear would effectively spell the end for supply management.
A second generation dairy farmer, Robinson shares those concerns. He and his wife, Leslie, operate Blue Diamond Farm in South Freetown, along with his parents, Brian and Martha Robinson. Their 154 acre farm was one of the stops on an agriculture industry tour held recently for stakeholders and the media that was sponsored by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, PEI Federation of Agriculture and the PEI Potato Board.
The 30-year-old, who is currently in the process of purchasing the farm from his parents, worries what would happen if the current system is eroded. He told reporters "without supply management, we would be in big trouble and I don't know whether we would be able to survive over the long term."
The Robinson family has somewhat of a unique perspective on how difficult and expensive it can be to establish a dairy farm. In 2003, they moved to the Island from the Cumberland area of Nova Scotia, where they had a milking herd of 80-90 cows. Since quota is not transferrable between provinces, they were forced to sell their quota and purchase quota in the Island system.
"It can certainly be expensive to get established, especially for a young farmer," Tom said.
PEI is a member of what is known in the dairy industry as the P5, (meaning the Maritime Provinces Quebec and Ontario) who make joint decision on quota and production. While each province is able to set the price of quota, the P5 have agreed to the same price in all jurisdictions.
Blue Diamond milks 75 Holsteins and has a total herd of 160 animals. They also flush many of their own cows to improve the herd and market embryos around the world. In addition to the dairy operation, they also grow corn silage and alfalfa and mill their own grain.
Tom said they are always looking at ways to keep expenses down and one area where they have achieved success is bedding. He said there is no doubt sand is the most comfortable bedding for cattle, but it does have some drawbacks for the producer. it is expensive and often hard to get, can be messy and it freezes in the winter when it gets wet.
Now he has begun using peat moss and he said "it is comfortable for the cows and relatively easy to get and work with. It has also made a big impact on the bottom line-- bedding costs on the farm have gone from about $25,000 annually to $5,000-$6,000.
"It is a huge saving for us," he said. "Peat moss is used in some other parts of the world but it is relatively new here."
Tom admits to feeling a little frustrated when he hears reports of animal cruelty on farms, especially when he tries to go the extra mile to ensure his animals are as comfortable as possible. He has set up a back scratcher, specifically angled to give maximum relief from that itch, that is virtually going non-stop.
It pays dividends for the farm as well , adding "a happier animal producers more milk, it is a simple as that."