No one would deny that farmers should be able to make a fair wage for the work they do. In Canada’s chicken industry, farmers rely on a system called “supply management” to do just that.
Before supply management, chicken farms were subject to ‘boom and bust’ cycles; sometimes, there was too much chicken on the market, sometimes, there was too little. This unreliability made it hard for farmers to count on a steady income, and consumers couldn’t rely on a steady supply of fresh, Canadian chicken.
The implementation of supply management grew from the farmers’ own desire to better manage supplies at a national level. You see, vast amounts of surplus chicken would be produced and then couldn’t be sold at break-even prices. With chicken being a perishable item, it was hard for farmers to find buyers for the surplus, and if they did, they took huge losses that made it impossible to stay in business.
Together and democratically, Canadian chicken farmers decided to adopt production disciplines so they could concentrate on filling the demand of the domestic market without under-producing or producing excess that would drive the market right down. And so, supply management for chicken in Canada was born.
Simply put, supply management means managing production, imports and what the farmers receive for their work. It’s a horizontal integration system – one where each stakeholder in the value chain owns the product as it’s produced, literally, from gate to plate.
Farmers get a fair return for their product. They are fairly paid for their chickens, processors get a reliable supply of raw ingredients, and Canadians get a consistent choice of excellent and high-quality chicken at reasonable prices – all without government subsidies.
Supply management is a uniquely Canadian response to volatile markets. Consumer demand is rarely static. It changes as a result of demographic shifts, immigration from countries with different food preferences, and new science related to human health and nutrition.
As well, supply management’s stability allows farmers to not only fill consumer demand, but to grow the demand. Chicken consumption has been trending upward for several years in a row and farmers have responded by increasing production.
It’s clear that supply management is important to this country, its consumers and its farmers – it is definitely worth preserving.