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Erring on the Side of Friendship

Erring on the Side of Friendship

L-R: Sherm Polinder, Karen Souter, Tars, Chubb Berry.
Nearly everyone reading this will relate to the unsettling months of NAFTA negotiations and the feeling of betrayal left by the new ‘Shafta’ trade agreement. People outside of dairy fall into either the ‘We support 100% Canadian dairy,’ or the ‘Get over it’ camps.

There has been much churning over the still-unknown consequences of the fine print and long term / deep reaching ramifications for Canadian producers. Friends have told me that their daily farm work has been both a blessing for distracting them from all the upheaval, and a burden, since they worry for their business futures. It’s been hard and emotions have, understandably, been running hot.

Like many of you, I have taken to social media to make appropriate statements to support our industry and refute the myths and criticisms that proliferate and grow roots. While many Canadians have professed loyal support, at times, it feels like we are fighting forest fires with garden hoses. In the midst of this mess, a situation arose that caused me to think about our reactions during stressful times.

The recent dispersal of a prominent Whatcom County herd in Abbotsford would not have raised eyebrows prior to Shafta, but at this anxious time, it caused many to ask, “Why are we supporting the purchase of American cattle when our own industry has taken a direct hit from the Americans? Should we not be supporting the trade in Canadian cattle?” Fair questions. If we are beating the drum of ‘Support Canadian Dairy’ then should we not also do the same?

Here’s the dilemma – Sherm Polinder, Ronelee Holsteins, has been not only a life-long friend of BC breeders, but he’s been a vocal supporter and activist for Supply Management in the US. Well-respected, he has taken the case for adoption of a similar system to the highest levels in the American political arena… often at great sacrifice to his own farm. Sherm endorsed the Canadian kind of breeding – his most famous and successful cow family, ‘the Dabbles’ were headed by Outside and Rudolph and these bloodlines are already appreciated and milked in BC. At any other time, selling 100 of his best cows in Abbotsford would have been seen as enticing. But in the midst of Shafta, we felt insult, on top of injury. It’s an uncomfortable situation to be sure.

I won’t speak for anyone else but me. Sherm has been an exemplary guy who chose me as PNE Grand Champion Showman in 1981 – which was especially pivotal for a little known 4-H kid without any pedigree. That was just the start.

Friendship had to come ahead of political position.

There’s no clear right or wrong here in my view – we must each live with our conscience. But if we turn against one another, then we’ve been shafted twice. At the end of our careers/lives, I think the most important legacy we will leave is how we treated one another.

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