Local Dairy Farmers Fear The Outcome of NAFTA Talks

Essex County used to be home to 60 dairy farmers.

Now there are seven and those who remain fear that number could drop even further if the current supply management system is left out of a new North American Free Trade Agreement.

Each farm has an individual quota to meet domestic demand, in turn, providing market predictability and stability.

Bernard Nelson has been operating Lilac Row Farms in Kingsville for the past 35 years.

He tells CTV News the future of dairy farming is now on the NAFTA negotiating table.

"What it does in the next 10 years, it definitely could change the landscape of rural Ontario," says Nelson. "It allows us to produce a commodity at a fair price for the consumer and the producer. Hopefully the government will still continue to support us and hopefully there will be a tomorrow."

Mark Stannard is a Kingsville dairy farmer as well and he says even a slight change could lead to the death of the system and his way of life.

"We all need to make a living, right? We're only asking to make a living, nobody's getting rich, we're just making a living. I hope it's a good outcome, but if it isn't, we're all going to have to make some tough decisions as to where we're going to go here," says Stannard.

Bill Anderson with the University of Windsor's Cross Border Institute says, so far, Canada has taken a firm stance to maintain supply management.

"That has built this, what is actually probably a relatively small part of the overall trade picture between the United States and Canada, into something very big," says Anderson." It's hard to believe that this whole thing could fail on the basis of that, but it kind of looks as if it could."

There are 3,500 dairy farms across Ontario supporting roughly 74,000 jobs.

NAFTA negotiations are slated to resume Wednesday.