Trump's tough talk sends a chill through local milk producers

This is what Donald Trump said, “In Canada some very unfair things have been happening to our dairy farmers and others and we’re going to start working on that.”

This is what Peter Ruiter heard, “They actually want to put me out of business. That’s what he was talking about.”

The Ottawa dairy farmer is reacting to comments the U.S. President made about Canadian dairy industry regulations while at a stop in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Wisconsin is known for its significant dairy industry.

Ruiter sees Trump’s tough talk as an attack on Canada’s milk supply management system. There has certainly been plenty of debate over whether it amounts to an unfair subsidy or not. But without it he says he and other small, local producers like him couldn’t hope to compete with their U.S. counterparts. “I can’t produce milk as cheap as they can just because of the taxes, the hydro, the labour costs. I just can’t do it,” he says.

If the U.S. does try to negotiate more access to the Canadian market it would be another blow to a way of life already under siege. According to the Canadian Dairy Information Centre, the number of individually-operated dairy farms in Ontario has shrunk by almost 40% over the past 15 years.

The blow would be especially felt in Eastern Ontario which produces one third of all the milk in the province. “We are some of the strongest rural-based businesses out there,” says Ruiter. “And it’s going to affect our industry. It’s going to affect the bottom line of everybody.”

Trump’s comments, while concerning, were also vague. He didn’t say exactly how he was going to rectify the “unfair” situation between Canadian and U.S. dairy producers. Ruiter hopes the President’s talk was just that, talk, designed to score political points in the dairy state.

“I have to just put that part over there and not really worry about it,” says Ruiter. “Because if I thought of everything that Trump says I’d not be sleeping at all.”