Wally Smith is no stranger to the landscape of the dairy industry in Canada. An active leader in the industry, Wally became a full-time dairy producer on Vancouver Island in 1985. He has held positions with the Vancouver Island Milk Producers, BC Milk Producers and the BC Dairy Foundation, and became a board member of Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) in 2000. In 2003, Wally joined the executive of DFC, becoming President in 2011, a position he held for 3 terms. Wally has also been the Vice Chair of the International Federation of Agriculture Producers Group on Dairy Products form 2008-2010. In 2016, Wally made the list of Canadian Business’ ‘Most Powerful Business People’ at #46, following DFC’s lobby in agriculture and trade, and in 2017 Wally was recognized with the BC Dairy Industry Lifetime Achievement Award, which is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the BC Dairy Industry.
I know my fellow Vancouver Island dairy producers and I have always been proud to see one of our own represent the interests of dairy farmers in this province and across the country with as much passion and class as Wally did during his tenure with DFC. I was able to catch up with Wally recently to discuss how life has changed for him since his term with DFC ended and his new job with Bothwell Cheese began, and ask him his thoughts on the current situation of the dairy industry in Canada.
How has life changed for you since you finished your term with DFC? What drove you to stay in the position for the length of time that you did?
WS: There’s been a lot less drama! Life is less strenuous now that I’m no longer juggling my role in agriculture political leadership and running an active dairy farm. The stress comes when you incur extra cost because you’re walking away from your farm to go and deal with political issues regarding supply management and the dairy industry.
That said, it was a privilege to serve the industry for the length of time that I did, and, to have the confidence of dairy farmers across the country, especially for my full 3 terms as President of DFC. For me it was a way of giving back to the industry that provided so much for my family. The best part of the job was the successes we had – we had a close rapport with government, especially during the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, and that helped to ensure the continuation and viability of supply management.
Describe your current job with Bothwell Cheese. What are they doing that inspired you to join them?
WS: I’m currently the Executive Vice President at Bothwell Cheese. The values of the mid-sized family owned company are very much aligned with the values I was promoting during my time with DFC. It’s helpful that the owners of the company live in Nanaimo, BC, which is only about 45 minutes away from me, so I can stay fully engaged without the burden of travelling, although I do go to Winnipeg once a month.
Bothwell Cheese never uses any modified milk ingredients to make their cheese, the only ingredient is milk! And we only produce cheese from locally sourced, 100% Canadian Milk, which is a very important value.
What are your thoughts on the current situation in the Canadian Dairy Industry regarding the supply management system? Should dairy farmers be concerned about the safety of the system?
WS: Dairy farmers always need to be vigilant in their efforts to protect supply management, which I consider to be a Canadian icon. The industry as a whole needs to remember that supply management is a privilege and not an entitlement, so we need to treat it carefully and handle with care. Supply management is a great system, but we can’t get too cocky thinking we’ll always have it. Dairy farmers shouldn’t believe that it’s a right to have, because there won’t get consumer support for the system as we know it if we do that, and consumer support is paramount.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing producers in Canada right now? What can producers do to face those challenges head on?
WS: There are multiple challenges from animal welfare and environmental sustainability to dispelling myths that opponents and critics would allege that farmers are responsible for. Farmers need to be actively committed to promoting the benefits of agriculture throughout the country, both economic and environmentally sustainable benefits.
An excellent platform to do this with proAction®, but it’s important to be able to communicate our values in the public domain far more than is being done currently. Producers should consider investing more money so that the impact and effect of the message is heard more broadly throughout the public sphere. I understand that producers will likely be reluctant to spend more, but if supply management is treated as a privilege the extra cost for promoting the program will serve as an insurance policy for the system.