By RYAN KING
CODROY VALLEY – Gerard Cormier is a well-known dairy farmer who has also acted as an advocate for provincial farmers, helping to form the NL Milk Marketing Board. He has also served on the Crop and Livestock Insurance Board, the Dairy Farmers of Canada, and the Canadian Milk Supply Management Committee. For these contributions, Cormier was inducted into the Atlantic Agricultural Hall of Fame on Oct. 21. His father, Leo Cormier, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
“That makes it a little more special, you know, and when the next generation is able to do the same thing, perform in the community and in the industry, and get recognized for your time and your efforts and everything, so it’s quite an honour,” said Cormier.
The Cormiers have deep roots in the Codroy Valley, as Cormier is a fifth-generation farmer. His great-grandfather established the family farm back in 1852.
“For the first three generations the farm consisted of that mostly just mixed farming, and then I guess when my father took over the farm, things were changing and he decided that he wanted to try to get into an industry that would, his famous words were, ‘To have a paycheck, you know, at least once a month instead of once a year.’ So he chose the dairy industry,” said Cormier.
The move proved to be the right one, and when Cormier took over the farm in the 70s, he and his brother, Dan, had more ideas.
“I guess in 2004 we had bigger ideas and we wanted to grow a little faster. So that’s when we merged with the Chaffee farm from St. David’s. So we went from milking like 350 cows to 1,000 cows. So it was quite a jump, and it was a worthwhile move because it’s really gave us a chance to expand quicker than we probably would have, said Cormier. “So the moves certainly paid off.”
One example of Cormier’s advocacy for provincial farmers was the creation of the NL Milk Marketing Board, and he has been a member for 25 years.
“First of all, when you’re farming you need to have a market for your product,” explained Cormier. “The farmers in the west coast, which, you know, I was a part of at that time, we decided to try to see if we could form some kind of a board and have all the farmers in the province come together. And so we were lucky enough to get agreement with all the producers, and in 1983 the Newfoundland Milk Marketing Board was formed.”
He also served on various other boards that supported farmers and the community, like the Crop and Livestock Insurance Board and the School Milk Foundation. While some of these positions were easier than others, they all required time away from home.
“I took a position on the School Milk Foundation for three years. So that was a little less work,” said Cormier, “But for most of those positions that you take it’s a lot of volunteering and also a lot of time away from your family. And you need somebody capable of, you know, looking after the farm while you’re away and I was fortunate enough to have my brother manage the farm while I was away and not miss anything. He was quite capable of managing the farm while I was gone, so that allowed me to spend more time in the industry as representative.”
This help was critical, as at the time Cormier Dairy was quite likely the largest farm in Newfoundland and the workload was heavy.
“Our industry kind of took right off back in the 80s to 90s. I mean we went from producing 9 million litres in 1983, to 50 million liters by the end of the 90s,” said Cormier. “We had a good industry that really, you know, had a lot of interest and people want to get into the area.”
Cormier says it was all worth it and still stays up to date on the status of agriculture around the province.
“The dairy industry is doing quite well and along with some of the other commodities now seems to be growing, you know, crops and some beef, and that sort of thing,” explained Cormier. “It’s not increasing as much now because we have so much competition on the markets. You know, for milk that it’s a little more difficult to get the younger generation into drinking, I guess, milk compared to some of the other choices that they have, so that’s always a challenge, just to keep our consumption up.”
He added that this is an issue not only in Newfoundland, but across the country over the past 10 years and cited the declining population as one factor.
“We need more people in the country, so that’s why we’re hoping (to have) them to increase consumption.”
Cormier began farming at a young age to help out on the farm. He found it to be his passion, and he has no regrets about dedicating his life to farming.
“I guess it’s in my blood, the same as it was in the generations before me. But you know, I never left home. I never really finished high school. My services were needed so bad on the farm, my father just needed me when I never even finished Grade 11, and I went to work on the farm,” recalled Cormier. “He needed me on the farm more so than going to university. So that was my decision and my choice, and that’s what I chose, to do start farming at a very young age, and you know, I’m not sorry for that because I tell you, I wouldn’t have done anything else anyway.”
He advises that anyone looking to get into farming to only do so if they have the dedication for it, not to mention being fine with working long hours.
“Like any kind of farming, you have to have a passion for it. If you don’t like the long hours and that kind of stuff then don’t go farming, because, especially with dairy farming, it’s 7 days a week, 365 a year. There’s not too many days off. You know, back when we were growing the farm, we very seldom had any time off at all. So you have to have the passion for it, or you or you wouldn’t survive.”
Cormier shared that to have his hard work and volunteering efforts recognized is incredible.
“It’s a lot of years, a lot of hard work and, you know, getting recognized for the hard work that you put in, especially volunteering, and being a huge part of community, and the industry it’s not something that you plan for when you start out farming, but when you do all this, and in the end when you do get recognized, it is quite an honour. There’s no doubt.”