It is quite symbolic that our organization is turning 40 this year! This is not only a symbol of its resilience and ability to adapt and reinvent itself, but also of its relevance in Quebec society. It did not arrive here all on its own, because no organization can do that without its members. The PLQ’s qualities have allowed it to endure, thanks in large part to the creativity and hard work of those who helped build it – local milk producers.
This anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate the success stories and victories of our predecessors, not to mention the challenges they had to overcome, and those we still have to meet. Because, beyond the number 40, many cohorts of milk producers have come together at the local, regional, Quebec and Canadian levels to address current and future problems collectively, in the greater interest of achieving equity between producers both now and in the future.
In fact, we have good reason to celebrate this new milestone for our organization. The cover of this edition features a logo that was specially designed for the occasion and serves as a reminder of our past battles and victories, but also gives us a glimpse of our future, so that we continue to build a strong, flexible and equitable organization in the coming decades. During the year, this logo will be included in the various publications of Les Producteurs de lait du Québec.
Moreover, we plan to celebrate this anniversary and share our pride throughout the year. Our meeting in April will give us an opportunity to do just that. Every issue of this publication during the year will follow suit by featuring retrospectives and themed articles about the last four decades.
But aside from these celebratory gestures, what should we take away from the advances we have made over the last 40 years? I encourage you to take a few moments to revisit your memories of the last several years and even meet up with veterans of our past battles to talk about them. Just like my father did, I will undoubtedly talk to you about a transition to an agricultural model structured more around dairy production and about the conflict “between the two types of milk.” This huge challenge for the producers of that time gave them some serious food for thought about the structure and dynamics of the market. As a result, they were able to draw conclusions that increased the equity and sustainability of our sector. After all, despite the ease of finding points of disagreement, we made it through this ordeal together and no one would go back now.
Think of the trade agreements. Starting in 1982, 30 years ago this year, many producers protested the GATT agreements.1 The “agricultural exception” of the WTO2 agreements gave producers good reason to be worried at the time and motivated them to take concerted action. Even though the Doha Round of negotiations at the WTO stalled for the most part starting in 2008, our troubles were still not over. One after the other, the multilateral trade agreements continued to multiply.
First, there was the agreement with Europe, CETA,3 and then another agreement with countries in the Pacific zone, the CPTPP,4 and finally the second version of NAFTA, known as CUSMA.5 We had to endure the loss of 8.4% of our markets, even though supply management is still in effect in Quebec and Canada thanks to producers’ concerted efforts. While we would have preferred a different outcome, it goes without saying that given the context, our concerted efforts were without question the very thing that limited the damage and allowed us to obtain compensation.
With this in mind, our 40th anniversary is an opportunity to remember how far we have come. Certainly, union struggles receive a great deal of media attention, but we have continued to be just as creative and innovative as ever in our sector by using all the tools that collective marketing provides to improve conditions for dairy producers.
Since our initial marketing agreements were implemented, we have shown that we are visionaries by insisting on negotiating supply rules that promote the development of cheese and yogurt production, which can be seen in our efforts to set up a growth reserve. We also came up with market development strategies, including dairy product promotion. Think of our research and innovation tools with Novalait, our genetics tools with the CIAQ,6 and our expertise and knowledge transfer with Lactanet. These models are the envy of many other sectors. We took huge steps forward when we harmonized with the other provinces in Canada. We set up milk payments based on components, negotiated milk marketing agreements and milk transportation agreements, and found ways of sending production signals to producers through payment ratios. We set up our own quality assurance program known as proAction, without waiting for lawmakers or our buyers to demand it. We developed an ingredient strategy that allows us to stay competitive and ensure acceptable revenue for producers. These are just a few examples. Thanks to all of these tools and our collective actions, producers now have a more equitable, stable and growth-oriented environment, which benefits our enterprises, our families and the entire population.
Our past successes, the legacy of those who advocated before us, can serve as motivation for the challenges ahead. We should be grateful to those who built our movement and gave us the tools that we can now use to confidently prepare for the future. For example, this year, we will need to work on our strategic plan for much of the upcoming decade. Many of our future discussions will concern the creation of a sustainable development plan, a tool that will definitely be necessary if we hope to position ourselves for the future.
Over the last 40 years, we have managed to stay relevant. We must now continue on this path and build on our expertise, our solidarity and our vision for the years to come.
Daniel Gobeil, chairman