10/23/2013 05:19 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

What You Didn't Know About Canadian Farms

Small businesses are a huge component of the Canadian economy, accounting for 98 per cent of all businesses in the country and employing more than two-thirds of the private sector labour force. During Small Business Week, we recognize the hard-work, dedication and contribution these businesses -- and the people behind them -- make to the economic health of our local communities across the country.

When one hears the term "small business," thoughts and images go to a row of tiny shops in the downtown, some boutiques or delis catering to the office crowds. Maybe you think of a small entrepreneurial venture, recently launched to address a problem we didn't know we had.

Rarely, if ever, do we think of farms when we think of small business. But small businesses dot the vast country side as well.

Canadian farms are predominantly family-owned small business providing goods to our markets. They are an integral link in the supply chain that supports several other small- and medium-sized businesses. From the dairy farm, think milk processors and cheese makers; before the farm, equipment, barn builders, and many services on the farm -- cow nutritionists, veterinarians and other services.

While more and more Canadians are living in cities, the farm and agri-food sectors remain economically important. Farms employ 2.1 million people, representing one in every eight Canadian jobs, and account for 8 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. But in true small-business fashion, these jobs and this economic impact is spread far and wide.

Our dairy industry is particularly active from coast to coast to coast. Dairy ranks as a top-two agricultural sector in seven of Canada's 10 provinces. In British Columbia, 45 per cent of its agricultural workers are employed on supply-managed farms (dairy, poultry and eggs), and more than half of the farm sector revenues in Nova Scotia come from supply managed products -- in fact, dairy alone accounts for 28 per cent of all the farm sector revenues in the province.

On Prince Edward Island, Amalgamated Dairies Limited (ADL) is a producer-owned co-op that processes close to 100 million litres of fresh island milk each year, employing more than 250 people. In Ontario and Québec, thousands of farms and processing plants dot the landscape.

Farms are small businesses that grow the Canadian economy, serve consumers and support other small businesses for their own services and goods. Stable economic growth, jobs and prosperity in communities result across the country.

Supply management is a uniquely Canadian model that supports sound fiscal management and a stable economy, something that has helped Canada weather recent economic storms that have swept across the globe. It starts with a market for farmers to sell their perishable goods everyday; and customers are guaranteed consistency and diversity in products at a fair price.

But that stability is being shaken by the concessions made by the federal government to achieve the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. Giving more access for subsidized European cheeses on store shelves in Canada is not a way to recognize the efforts of 20 years of multiple small and medium-sized businesses who have grown their quality offering and carved market niches across the country.

The stable Canadian market has encouraged innovation in that sector, with cheese makers offering about 1,000 different cheeses made from cow, goat and/or sheep milk. These businesses have generated economic activity and developed many innovative products. The government decision to give more access to the EU is a new challenge to their future growth plans.

This week, I want to salute our dairy small and medium-sized businesses, say "thank you" and promise to work with them to foster favourable conditions that are right for all of our small dairy businesses to not only survive, but to thrive.